The New Normal Ain’t Normal

A generation of kids with massive student loans and no prospects is bad news for the status quo.


It’s getting increasingly difficult for young Americans to navigate the road to what those of us over a certain age consider a “normal” life.

Mother Jones‘ Adam Weinstein, a graduate of the Naval Academy and the Columbia School of Journalism, had Twitter rant Saturday about how the “trap” he and his wife face, needing two jobs to pay off huge student loan debt while the high cost of child care for their newborn son pretty much negates the value of the second income.

There’s an interesting sidebar conversation in the Millennials Not Buying Cars thread, with Michael Reynolds noting that the new normal seems to involve decreased consumption, increasing productivity, and fewer workers. He figures only massive redistribution will “hold civilization together.” Scott observes

This is the kind of ideas that I remember reading in science fiction in the 60s. What happens when production becomes so efficient that you need very few people to actually produce? What are all these people who are not needed going to do? What do people do when there is no more want? How do we structure society where people don’t become self-destructive? There weren’t any answers but I always felt that not everybody could self-actualize by becoming artists, writers, etc.

That genre goes further back than that. A classic example was Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000-1887, published in 1887. Here’s the Wikipedia synopsis

The book tells the story of Julian West, a young American who, towards the end of the 19th century, falls into a deep, hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up one hundred and thirteen years later. He finds himself in the same location (Boston, Massachusetts), but in a totally changed world: It is the year 2000 and, while he was sleeping, the United States has been transformed into a socialist utopia. The remainder of the book outlines Bellamy’s thoughts about improving the future. The major themes include problems associated with capitalism, a proposed socialist solution of a nationalisation of all industry, the use of an “industrial army” to organise production and distribution, as well as how to ensure free cultural production under such conditions.

The young man readily finds a guide, Doctor Leete, who shows him around and explains all the advances of this new age; including drastically reduced working hours for people performing menial jobs and almost instantaneous, Internet-like delivery of goods. Everyone retires with full benefits at age 45, and may eat in any of the public kitchens. The productive capacity of America is nationally owned, and the goods of society are equally distributed to its citizens. A considerable portion of the book is dialogue between Leete and West wherein West expresses his confusion about how the future society works and Leete explains the answers using various methods, such as metaphors or direct comparisons with 19th-century society.

Although Bellamy’s novel did not discuss technology or the economy in detail, commentators frequently compare Looking Backward with actual economic and technological developments. For example, Julian West is taken to a store which (with its descriptions of cutting out the middleman to cut down on waste in a similar way to the consumers’ cooperatives of his own day based on the Rochdale Principles of 1844) somewhat resembles a modern warehouse club like BJ’s, Costco, or Sam’s Club. He additionally introduces a concept of credit cards in chapters 9, 10, 11, 13, 25, and 26, but these bear no resemblance to the instruments of debt-finance. All citizens receive an equal amount of “credit.” Those with more difficult, specialized, dangerous or unpleasant jobs work fewer hours.

Fast forward to yesterday and we have Anne-Marie Slaughter‘s “How to Make the U.S. a Better Place for Caregivers.” The piece defies excerpting but her core argument is that, “What mothers need, as well as fathers, spouses, and the children of aging parents, is an entire national infrastructure of care, every bit as important as the physical infrastructure of roads, bridges, tunnels, broadband, parks and public works.” In one short column she calls for everything for the latest treatments being available for all pregnant women and newborn babies; generous maternity and paternity leave policies (she cites 280 days at 90 percent pay as an example); “high-quality, affordable day-care, either at the workplace or close by” with “high-quality meaning “care provided by trained professionals who are specialists in child development, who can provide a stable, loving, learning environment that can take care not only of children’s physical needs but also provide stimulation and socialization”; a massive expansion of paid family medical leave; highly flexible work schedules including ”Flexible start and stop times, compressed workweeks, advance knowledge about overtime and shift schedules, part-time work, short-term time off, regular time off, and extended time off”; equalizing Social Security payouts; and a dozen or so other programs. She doesn’t even mention the issue of universal access to high-quality medical care, which is outside the scope of her topic.

Nor, given that it’s a call for action rather than a policy brief, does Slaughter give us any idea what all of this will cost. Still, she notes, most industrialized countries provide some or most of these benefits and all of them do more along these lines than the United States.

Absent some Looking Backward-style socialist utopia, I can’t even wrap my head around how we can simultaneously pay for everyone to go to the best college and graduate schools they can get into, pay for their kids’ day care, and pay their kids’ day care provider the fantastic salary and benefits that would be required for them to have the skillsets Slaughter insists be the minimum. Nor do I have any idea how to operate an increasingly service-oriented economy with everyone having maximum schedule flexibility.

At the same time, it’s a pretty vicious cycle. I’m a dozen years older than Weinstein and I’ve got two young children that I’m raising on my own. But I’m at the tail end of the cohort who went to college in the days before it required a lifetime of indentured servitude to the banks; indeed, I finished each of my three degrees without ever taking out a loan and without my parents footing the bill. And, surely, we want the Adam Weinsteins of the world to get a fantastic education and be able to raise children.

The Reynolds-Slaughter solution is a massively redistributionist public infrastructure program. I’m naturally skeptical, for all manner of reasons. And, practically speaking, we’re currently on the opposite road, with a mindset of gutting existing programs in the name of budget austerity.

But a generation of kids with massive student loans with no prospect of finding jobs paying enough to pay them off—much less raise a family while doing it—is going to create a pretty powerful set of pressures on the system. I don’t think we’re going to like the result.

Photo credit: Kresta

FILED UNDER: Education, Environment, Science & Technology, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. anjin-san says:

    No prospects? None?


    That’s amazing.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: Increasingly, no. The debts are going through the roof, there are fewer jobs, and the salaries are lower. And the cost of everything from health care to child care is skyrocketing, too.

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    But a generation of kids with massive student loans with no prospect of finding jobs paying enough to pay them off—much less raise a family while doing it—is going to create a pretty powerful set of pressures on the system. I don’t think we’re going to like the result.

    Agreed. This is why some of us have been screaming for years that unemployment and wage growth have got to be top priorities. The lost incomes and declining spending power that result from mass youth unemployment and indebtedness will necessarily reduce future national productive capacity and result in lower material wealth. Our economic potential has already been damaged for generations by allowing this extraordinary waste to occur.

  4. Jen says:

    Something has to give. I don’t know what it will be. I have a number of friends with young children, who, due to the above-listed factors (student loan debt and child care) are not able to save for their children’s college. Increasingly, I hear them say college degrees just aren’t worth the money they cost. Their children are still young, so it will be interesting to see if that thought changes as they get older. Right now though they are looking at their earnings and savings and coming to the conclusion that saving for their kids’ college tuition just isn’t happening.

  5. John Burgess says:

    If we cannot (or choose not to) fund the simple maintenance of existing critical infrastructure, where’s the money coming from to fund expanded social infrastructure?

    Maybe that BA will come to mean “boss’s assistant” for road repair crews?

  6. Ben Wolf says:
  7. jeff sexton says:


    one other factor: the generation currently beginning to create families under thisvdebt load? Millenials. an even bigger generation than even the Boomers.

    scary times ahead, indeed. and I I’m a Millenial!

  8. anjin-san says:

    Agreed. This is why some of us have been screaming for years that unemployment and wage growth have got to be top priorities.

    Well, at the moment, the top priority of James’ party appears to be yet another in an endless series of votes to repeal Obamacare.

  9. wr says:

    @James Joyner: And the one thing that could change all this is the one thing no Republican will ever let happen — we have to stop transferring the nation’s wealth to the top tenth of a percent of the population. We need strong labor laws, high marginal tax rates, strong controls on corporations.

    But if anyone tries to implement any of this, he’ll be called a commie.

    And then reasonable Republicans will wring their hands and wonder why there was nothing we could do to alter this nation’s disastrous trajectory. And the billionaires in the penthouses will laugh down at you.

  10. wr says:

    @anjin-san: “Well, at the moment, the top priority of James’ party appears to be yet another in an endless series of votes to repeal Obamacare. ”

    That’s completely unfair to the Republicans.

    They also want to scream about edited talking points.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    Employ people doing what, exactly? They do have to be doing something, right, otherwise it’s not a job, it’s a pastime.

    The question is this: what jobs in the future can be done better by a human than by a robot/app etc… Name those jobs. As mentioned in the other thread, the technology already exists to replace just about every fast food worker in the country, just as we’ve replaced travel agents and bank tellers.

    The technology is in the pipeline that will replace cab drivers, delivery people, etc… Is it hard to imagine technology that can deliver meals in nursing homes? Is it hard to picture robots/apps replacing radiologists and dental technicians and carpenters? 20 years from now you’ll go in for surgery and reject out-of-hand the human surgeon, the one who drinks, gets tired, forgets. You’ll demand the robot surgeon. You won’t dream of getting into a cab driven by some sullen immigrant — you’ll want the security of a computer.

    How many categories of job cannot be turned over to robots in the next 20 years? Try naming some. There aren’t a lot. And yes, I know all about 19th century looms and buggy whips and the rest, so maybe I’m wrong and there are whole vast areas where robots cannot take the place of humans. But I doubt it.

    Machines are more precise, more reliable, do not get sick, do not go on maternity leave. They last a long time without demanding a raise or a promotion. They do what they’re told. What do people suppose will happen when all that precision and reliability is married up to a functional level of “intelligence” equal to what most humans apply in their work? Bear in mind, machines don’t need to be able to read poetry or do math, they just need to perform a specific function.

    So, we can either have redistribution of wealth by direct means, or we can do it with luddite laws forbidding technology, or we can do it with make-work pseudo-jobs. But it’s all the same thing. It’s still the fortunate few supporting the less fortunate.

    I don’t see that as dystopian necessarily. It is different, and we’ll have to adapt. I’m hoping the adaptation is relatively painless.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    One other point: we’ve kept our economy afloat so far on the backs of consumers mindlessly, obsessively adding to their little stockpile of “stuff.” What if consumers stop mindlessly pursuing more, more, more? I think that’s already happening.

    So, fewer humans will be needed to meet all of our wants and needs. Especially so if we want less.

  13. Ben Wolf says:

    Michael, we have no clear evidence productivity is out-accelerating need for employment. In fact productivity growth has fallen greatly since the GFC in 2008, because there hasn’t been sufficient spending to spur investment. If people don’t spend the economy toward maximum those robots don’t get built.

  14. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The question is this: what jobs in the future can be done better by a human than by a robot/app etc… Name those jobs.

    Prostitute, dominatrix, escort, or other kind of sex worker.

    Apart from that, yeah, drawing a blank….

  15. stonetools says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Of course, for Doug and James, there’s no alternative to the current economic situation, because Keynesian “Big Gumint” interventionism doesn’t work, as per Hayek, von Mises, and other gods of the right wing economic universe. Its unfortunate that the whole conservative movement (and not a few “moderate” Democrats intent on achieving bipartisan compromise) bought into that myth.

    Now that the Austerian myth has been discredited, moderate Democrats are gradually drifting around to embracing the the need for renewed stimulus. Among conservatives, though, devotion to the old time religion burns as fiercely ever. My hope is that by the 2014 elections, the public will realize what the reality-based already know: that we can restore full employment with new stimulus. Once that’s done, I expect that a lot of this “Millenials are So Different” talk will go away, as the Millenials revert to more traditional consumer patterns.

  16. michael reynolds says:


    Stimulate what jobs? What specific jobs? Shall we build more roads for fewer cars? Build bigger homes for smaller families? More teachers when the technology already exists to replace many of the ones we have? More government employees failing to keep up with VA benefits when what’s really needed are more and better-programmed computers? What sector of the economy can simply be stimulated into creating jobs?

    I think you’re operating on faith.

  17. Scott says:

    Of course we are stuck in our own paradigms of cost and money. If want is not a factor, then money is not a factor. There will be a new paradigm but what that is I don’t know.

    Interestingly, these same subject is tangentially dealt with by Matt Yglesias in his ruminations on Star Trek

    We also see the practical operation of a post-scarcity socialist economy. Picard explains in Star Trek: First Contact that “money doesn’t exist in the 24th century,” when “the acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives.” Instead, “we work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

    As Marx wrote in his Critique of the Gotha Program, the material prosperity made possible by ever-better technology is the necessary precursor to an economic system ruled by the principle, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” And that’s the principle the Federation lives by.

    On a more practical note, I think people are going to realize that, unless we change the path we are on, the income security parts of our society are falling by the wayside. Just think what happens to our consumer-driven economy if people start saving 20% of their income. I know I preach that to new college graduate and he does save a lot in a 401K, HSA, Roth, etc. He also complains that he doesn’t have enough to spend on himself. I tell him that he just has to trust that in the long run he’ll be better off.

  18. john personna says:

    The kickstarted narrative runs a bit counter to this. Millennials are finding each other as buyers and sellers in a way that bypasses both Amazon and local storefronts. I agree old models have falling labor demand, but micro-manufacturing might take up some slack.

  19. Rafer Janders says:


    I know I preach that to new college graduate and he does save a lot in a 401K, HSA, Roth, etc. He also complains that he doesn’t have enough to spend on himself. I tell him that he just has to trust that in the long run he’ll be better off.

    He will be, but collectively we may not be, at least the way we’re currently structured. If he’s saving 20% in retirement vehicles, he probably won’t also be able to save for a mortgage downpayment, a car, etc. etc. And since his spending is our income, society as a whole won’t have that money circulating through the economy.

    One reason that the previous generation were all able to buy a house and two cars and send their kids to college is that they had secure jobs and pensions, and so didn’t feel the need to save 20% for retirement. Having a sense that the future was taken care of freed them up to spend money in the present, and that stimulated the economy.

    But we apparently decided that we didn’t want secure, stable workers, and so put the whole burden of retirement back on them. It should be no surprise, therefore, that people who fear becoming destitute in old age don’t love the idea of buying a new car every two years, and that collectively we’ve shot ourselves in the foot, since so much of our economy depended on that two year turnover.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    This gets to the real issue of our time. Are we going to build a future that looks like a socialist hell hole like Sweden, or like a libertarian paradise like Somalia?

  21. Scott says:

    @Rafer Janders: Exactly my thinking. Couldn’t agree more. This is why universal healthcare can be a stimulous. It frees up people to change jobs, take chances, and improve their lives. Just the opposite of tyranny.

  22. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think you’re operating on faith.

    Nope I’m operating on what’s been shown to work. Prior to the 2008 crisis, there was no talk of millenials being all that different, the “New Normal”, etc. . The only thing that changed between September 2008 and now is the financial crisis. The millennials didn’t become any less skilled, less hard working, or less productive. What happened was a huge slump in aggregrate demand as a result of the financial crisis.
    Talk of the ” New normal” is not new, BTW. It goes back all the way to Great Depression. Persistent high unemployment rates were the “New Normal” then -until that gigantic stimulus program know as WW2.

    As to what stimulus. Well , we could start here:

    Krugman says that if he could make economic policy by fiat, he would start by rehiring all the public sector employees who were laid off in the past four years. “Normally state and local employment grows with population,” he notes. “Instead it has shrunk by 600,000 over this period. So if we were to simply rehire those fired schoolteachers — go back to the kind of employment that we should’ve had on a normal track at the state and local level — right there we could add well over a million jobs. And before you know it, we’d be back to something that felt a lot more like prosperity.”

    Remember, Krugtron has been proven to be generally right and the “this is not a depression, this is the New Normal” guys generally wrong. If I have faith, its faith in a model and a pundit who has proven to be usually right.

  23. john personna says:

    There is a good chart here:

    Labor Participation Rate for Selected Age Groups, 1960-2013

    Big changes as 16-19 has fallen, which may be a “rich parents” effect. Big changes 55+ for deferred retirement. The other groups drift a bit, without IMO major trends.

  24. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: Education, tourism, environmental protection and restoration, renewable energy deployment (itself a tremendous undertaking), refitting of every home and building in the country to efficient energy standards.

    There are lots of things people can do.

  25. Dave D says:

    The student loan debt is a huge issue. I think that Warren’s bill that would reduce interest rates to that equal to what the big banks paid is probably one of the more proactive pieces of legislation in a while. Chances of it passing the House somewhere below 0%. It was also reported today that the student loan program is taking in 51 billion in profit. When I graduated I had 36 grand in student loan debt and I worked full time third shift for three of my four years. My private loans have lower interest than my federal loans. I am lucky enough to not only be employed but at a company that is putting me through grad school. I can use the in school interest deferment to pay my loans off quicker. Not everyone is that lucky. At the same time though, I bought a used car in cash. I have no interest in home ownership. If student loan debt has one upside to individuals it taught me not to saddle myself with more debt. I save the max on my 401K and am looking at paying off my loans in a couple years. The problem a country full of people like me, I am 26, is that I spend very little on consumer goods. Even worse for the economy is the loads of unemployed people like me who have the debt and can’t spend money into the economy. There only recourse is default or moving back in with their parents continuing to be a burden well past an age where that used to be acceptable.
    It seems the same people bitching that young kids need to have more kids to fund their retirements seem to do everything possible to keep them in debt. All of this is an economic depressor that is likely to get worse.

  26. stonetools says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Add in broadband infrastructure development . And lead paint removal from schools. And a renewed Cash for Clunkers (Germany continued their program long after the US stopped it here). Heck, let’s even go back and do a CCC. Economists don’t think its “efficient” but the public would love it. CCC work projects included:

    The CCC performed 300 possible types of work projects within ten approved general classifications:
    Structural improvements: bridges, fire lookout towers, service buildings
    Transportation: truck trails, minor roads, foot trails and airport landing fields
    Erosion control: check dams, terracing and vegetable covering
    Flood control: irrigation, drainage, dams, ditching, channel work, riprapping
    Forest culture: planting trees and shrubs, timber stand improvement, seed collection, nursery work
    Forest protection: fire prevention, fire pre-suppression, firefighting, insect and disease control
    Landscape and recreation: public camp and picnic ground development, lake and pond site clearing and development
    Range: stock driveways, elimination of predatory animals
    Wildlife: stream improvement, fish stocking, food and cover planting
    Miscellaneous: emergency work, surveys, mosquito control[23]

    Seems like most of this stuff still needs doing. And it would soak up teenage unemployment and low-skilled labor.

  27. anjin-san says:

    Eventually, we are going to have to take a hard look at some of the assumptions our society is built upon. More, bigger, faster, build, bulldoze, buy…

    A few weeks ago I went to visit some friends in the house they bought with so much optimism in Antioch, CA ten years ago. Huge place, lots of room, they put a beautiful pool & BBQ in back. But, no matter how you slice it, Antioch is still Antioch. Lodi is still Lodi, Tracy is still Tracy, and so on. My friends are headed back to the midwest. It’s the only option they have, and Antioch has gone from sucky to scary.

    You can build big houses with granite counters in the kitchen and stuff them full of inexpensive goods from China that you buy at Wal Mart. If you squint, it will look like prosperity, but it’s not. All the good real estate was developed by the end of the 80s. No matter how many strip malls you build, a place like Lodi will still basically suck, and no one wants to live there if they can help it. A bunch of people were fooled by the lure of McMansions, but I think that act will only play once.

    As I left Antioch that day, hopefully for the last time, I realized that that was where the idea of the American suburb jumped the shark. We are going to have to come to grips with the fact that the mid twentieth century is history, and start thinking about what is really worthwhile and important, and were we go from here.

  28. john personna says:

    I’m kind of torn in response to this article. In a way I’ve worried about the same things for a long time. I think free trade and automation are hard on workers. I think there is a college loan bubble. I think the rise of the robot implies that there must be greater redistribution (in what I’ve called robo-socialism).

    At the same time I don’t see it as narrowly a youth problem. Youth labor participation was looking pretty good right up until 2008, as stonetools notes. Given the energy of youth, I’d think their jobs would come back as the general recovery continues. Or if not, you might have to flip it and say the reason not is that big lack of retirement at the other end. Another of my themes has been that the retirement system sucks, and the vast majority do not have enough in their 401Ks to make retirement in their 60’s work.

    Yeah, you might have to revisit this, if the recovery does not fix things, as a “crowding out” by the old.

  29. Moosebreath says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    “The question is this: what jobs in the future can be done better by a human than by a robot/app etc… Name those jobs.

    Prostitute, dominatrix, escort, or other kind of sex worker.”

    Harry Mudd respectfully disagrees with you.

  30. Moosebreath says:


    Sorry — wrong Harry Mudd episode.

  31. michael reynolds says:


    These are temporary, short-term, and ultimately pointless patches on a bigger, systemic problem (or opportunity.) And saying that it’s always worked in the past is myopia. Nothing always worked in the past, unless you define the past as “the period of time when such things worked.” The entire Industrial Revolution isn’t 200 years old. That’s a long blink in human history. The economy we now enjoy is how old, really? Post WW2? Less than 70 years. And how much of that is an echo of WW2?

    How long have we had an essentially global economy? What, 30 years? How long have we had a largely information-based economy? How long have we had an economy where all data is instantly available everywhere to everyone? Not long enough to comfortably cite as comforting precedent. How long have we had computers married to machines? A millisecond of history.

    Do you think innovation is a constant, that there will always be some new thing to build, and that the building of it will necessarily engage the energies of the entire human race? I don’t. History is centuries long periods of stasis. Do you think our cultural addiction to consumption will last forever? I don’t. I think cultures evolve. We’ve gotten by on bubbles for the last couple of decades. Before that we rose on the backs of a world shattered by a war that only we profited from, followed by a cold war that took vast portions of the human population out of the game. So on what do you base the idea of precedent?

    Do you think there is some law of physics that demands that 100% of the population be employed? Or is it possible that we can produce 100% of all that we want and all that we desire using something less than 100% of our population? 95%? 90%? 50%? Are those things impossible somehow? We will never have machines capable of performing virtually all human jobs? Really? If not never, then when?

    Right now we have the technology to replace 90% of workers in food service and retail. Where do those people go next? Into engineering? In 20 years we’ll have the technology to replace many more. Where do all the UPS drivers go? The only reason many of these people have not yet been replaced is that we pay them less than it takes to sustain a decent life. They can only stay employed by underbidding the machines. Is that a solution? How long will that last? Raise those workers to a decent income and the machines will replace them.

    I think you are relying on faith. That’s not data or laws of nature. It’s faith that what worked in the carefully limited past will work in the future. It’s faith that we exist in some unchangeable state of being, that the future will always be just a bit more of the present. History does not teach me that. History teaches me that things change, often very dramatically.

    I am convinced that we are there, that we are already into it, that it’s going to continue and likely will accelerate. And that in the end all these left/right arguments on economics will all be beside the point.

  32. matt says:

    @stonetools: Cash for clunkers was a terrible idea and we’re still bearing the ill effects.

    @michael reynolds: I don’t share your optimism in technological cost development.

    We won’t be using automated UPS trucks in the next 20 years for sure.

  33. JKB says:

    Wait a minute. Millenials aren’t getting licenses. There is a new normal where they can’t get jobs. But we apparently need truck drivers if the TV ads are true. Is this just another refusal by Millenials to acquire economically useful skills?

    But seriously, the future will have jobs that require judgement but when someone goes 40-100 thousand dollars in debt for a degree that provides no economically useful skills, have shown themselves to have poor judgement.

    But let’s permit student debt to be discharged in bankruptcy. They just have to surrender the diploma/credential. They can keep and use the knowledge but not trade on the fancy piece of paper.

    Of course, those in this situation could push to have knowledge validated by competency testing rather than the current time-served model. I’m not sure what value proving your competency in political science or Elizabethan literature would be but to each their own.

  34. anjin-san says:

    Cash for clunkers was a terrible idea and we’re still bearing the ill effects.

    Really? Like less junkers dripping oil on the roadways and spewing toxins into the air? Yea, that sucks.

  35. matt says:

    @anjin-san: You’re using a strawcar at best with your statement. The vast majority of cars crushed under the cash for clunkers program were nowhere near what you describe. I wonder what world of privilege you live in where a ford SUV from 2001 is a clunker (the top traded in car). Or all 2003 Ford F150s are complete clunkers(second most turned in car)..

    First off the cash for clunkers increased used car prices some for poor people like me.

    Second off the shredding of the clunkers resulted in a decrease in availability for low priced used parts (perfectly usable parts). Also the shredding impacted the environment directly in many ways such as in this article.

    Third off there’s serious questions as to the effectiveness of the program with most car purchases being incremental or already planned.

    Fourth off while the tax payers ended up covering 99% of the cars at roughly $24k each at least 1% of the deals were never paid for by the government leaving the local dealer on the hook for costs. Little things such as not having proof that the car was insured for a full year before being turned in would result in a rejection.

    As for the spewing toxins in the air.. Well that’s still going on even with the new cars same thing with the dripping of oil and grease on the roads.

  36. matt says:

    @anjin-san: I reckon the sight of my 95 del sol would send you into a raging fit…

    How dare I drive such an old piece of crap clunker on your roads..

  37. matt says:

    @anjin-san: For the record I still think you’re mostly an outstanding human being who has displayed a great deal of compassion and love when it comes to your family members and their difficulties. I just think you’re out of touch when it comes to some things.

    I’m also a bit envious that you’re in a position where a car from 2003 is a complete clunker to you. I’ve got a few more years before I can be somewhat in that position.

  38. Ben Wolf says:

    @JKB: Did you not get a chance to go to college?

  39. superdestroyer says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    It is a myth that Americans had secure jobs. Companies and corporations still went out of business in teh 1950’s and 60’s. 25% of Americans changed jobs every year for decades for a variety of reasons. 401K were partially develop so that if you left an job after a few year you still had something saved for retirement. Also many companies did not fund their pension plans adequately and when the companies go bankrupt there is not enough money to pay the pensioneers

    What was the percentage of Americans who started work in the 1950’s who stay with the same employer for 30 years and retired with a pension. That is in reality a small number of people.

  40. superdestroyer says:


    And how much higher would state and local taxes have to be to pay those million government employees? I suspect around 100 billion in additional taxes that would have to come from somewhere.

    I suspect that one of things holding the U.S. economy back is that outside of NYC, Boston, and SF, the best job to has is a government job. In rural towns and counties throughout the U.S., the best paying and most secure jobs are government jobs. Those civil servants hare economically disconnected from the local economy because they get paid first whether the local economy is doing well or not. Thus, those government employees become supporters of the status quo instead of thinking about growth and expanding the private sector.

  41. gVOR08 says:

    We started electing Republicans pretty regularly in the late 80s. If you elect Republicans, you have to expect a certain amount of this sort of thing.

  42. Tony W says:

    The new normal is largely the same as the old normal – each person adapting to current constraints and doing their best to thrive while trying to predict the future.

    I’m nearly 50 years old and have spent my entire career steering my skill set toward things that I know have a future – often when I had built a solid reputation in what I perceived to be a dying industry. During the 90s I was in an business that tangentially used computers, but I studied and took on computer expertise as my skill – which got me through the next decade. Then when I could see that skill moving toward commoditization and automation I moved into other areas where I could add value and noticed a deficit of skills in my colleagues.

    I’m not as pessimistic as Michael for folks like me (and likely most contributors to OTB), because we are generally thoughtful and can adapt. Michael’s vision does, however, apply to that huge population which is counting on the same dump-truck driver jobs available in 30-50 years, rather than analyzing the future and adapting their skills. Those people are indeed likely to be in worse shape than they would have been 20-30 years ago.

  43. Tony W says:

    @superdestroyer: In a word – BS.

    Government jobs have been more susceptible to layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts than the private sector during the recession. This is happening not only at the federal level but also in nearly every state.

  44. Barry says:

    @matt: “Cash for clunkers was a terrible idea and we’re still bearing the ill effects.”

    No, we’re not. We’re bearing the ill effects of the Great Financial Crash, and the ill effects of the right’s efforts to destroy the recovery. Amongst that storm, the cash for clunkers program is a fleck of spittle in a hurricane.

  45. john personna says:

    As an aside, The Economist agrees with another of my old positions, on the shipping container:

    THE humble shipping container is a powerful antidote to economic pessimism and fears of slowing innovation. Although only a simple metal box, it has transformed global trade. In fact, new research suggests that the container has been more of a driver of globalisation than all trade agreements in the past 50 years taken together.

  46. Matt says:

    @Barry: Well it’s nice that you don’t care about the environment or poor people.

    Aside from that I agree that the ill effects of the cash for clunkers is minor compared to the economic destruction wrought by the right wingers or the large number of soon to be superfund sites..

    @john personna: Shipping containers also make for a nice cheap housing unit amongst other uses.

  47. anjin-san says:

    @ Matt

    I wonder what world of privilege you live in

    I did have a privileged upbringing, but that was a long time ago. Everything my wife and I have, we got for ourselves, via working our asses off. No inheritances or trust funds, I’m afraid. I drive an eight year old 350Z – it does not leak any oil, (or anything else) and it is pretty darned good exhaust wise (Japanese cars are excellent that way)

  48. Matt says:

    @anjin-san: My 72 nova didn’t leak oil either. Neither did my 84 monte carlo (one cylinder did burn some oil though ugh)..

    My 95 del sol has picked up an extremely slow oil drip that I’m in the process of trying to eliminate. I’m planning to do a valve lash adjustment this weekend and while doing that I’m going to install new seals up top.

    I could only wish to have an eight year old 350z 😛 I will have my bachelors in electrical engineering in a few more years so I’m hoping all this work will pay off. It’s slow going having to support yourself while paying for classes. Obviously Pell grants and local scholarships help but certain people want to eliminate that…

    Age is only of minor relevancy to this stuff. Maintenance is the biggest factor.

  49. Barry says:

    @Matt: “@Barry: Well it’s nice that you don’t care about the environment or poor people.”

    Stop lying. If you gave a rat’s *ss about the environment, the cash for clunkers program would still be number 5,034 on your priority list.

  50. matt says:

    @Barry: I already provided plenty of reasons why the cash for clunkers hurt the environment and poor people then it helped. You don’t care because you only care about your “team” winning and blind partisanship…