My next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent (March 2014) deals with the changes to our American society and economy over the last fifty years, primarily the dilution of the Middle Class, replaced increasingly by the Working Poor, what people call the 99 percent. Though my book is ostensibly a work of fiction, telling the story through the experiences of one family, nearly everything in the book is based on fact. As you can guess from the title, my touchstone is Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck told the true story of American’s whose lives were destroyed by the Dustbowl and the Depression, through the lives of the fictional Joad family.
Here’s a new video to give you a preview of my book.
Direct link to the video.
A Nation at Risk
Our society is fatally at risk from growing economic disparity. The risk is more than the cold realities of poverty, hunger, and lack of medical care. Those are symptoms. The true risk is that along with the loss of jobs that paid a living wage, America has lost its and soul. A nation of broken people, forced to sell their self-respect to stay alive, is poor footing for a democracy.
The Industrial Revolution, which our grandpa’s rode up and our mom’s and dad’s caught the tail of, was the first time in our history that masses of Americans could get ahead simply by virtue of their skills and labor, without having to own land or be from a gilded family. Whereas since the abolition of slavery the system provided some avenues of growth and betterment to workers (albeit either grudgingly given or simply the overflow of mad growth), we are reaching now for a zero-sum point where wealthy people have come to believe that to gain anything requires them to take it from someone else. As an example, though Wal-Mart already makes billions in profits, it still fights even tiny increases to the minimum wage aggressively, and to the detriment of our society, effectively.
Grey Fades to Black
Much of the intellectual underpinning for these conclusions comes from the work of historian Morris Berman, cited previously on this blog.
However, if Berman paints a dim picture of our future, Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon paints it black.
Gordon calls himself a “declinist,” positing that the U.S.’ economic growth spurt from the Industrial Revolution through the 1970s was a once-in-a-millenium event not to be repeated. No TV pundit or warrior in the liberal-conservative culture wars, Gordon is an academic economistusing extraordinary scholarship to arrive at the conclusion that the assumption that economic growth is a continuous process that will persist forever is simply wrong. America has had its (albeit 200 year) moment and has rolled over the top of the roller coaster hill. As if drawn by gravity, the only path ahead is down.
But the Internet Will Save Us, Right?
Wrong. Gordon is particular answers those who claim the internets represent a second (third, fourth, eighth…) Industrial Revolution. Gordon writes:
The computer and Internet revolution began around 1960 and reached its climax in the dot.com era of the late 1990s, but its main impact on productivity has withered away in the past eight years. Many of the inventions that replaced tedious and repetitive clerical labor by computers happened a long time ago, in the 1970s and 1980s. Invention since 2000 has centered on entertainment and communication devices that are smaller, smarter, and more capable, but do not fundamentally change labor productivity or the standard of living in the way that electric light, motor cars, or indoor plumbing changed it.
Learn more about Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent (March 2014).
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