The post-employment economy and its discontents

First, a blog note: My Friday Links post will probably be late this week (again). It’s been an exhausting week, and I have a busy weekend planned–so I’ll get to it as soon as I can, but I’m not sure when that will be.

With that out of the way, here are some reflections I’ve been having on the issues I started exploring in my post about millenials and the terrible economy we’ve inherited: one that I’ve best heard described by writer Sarah Kendzior as a post-employment economy.

On a message board discussing both my post and the millenial-bashing one to which I was responding, I read a comment (which unfortunately I can no longer find)  that said, basically, money doesn’t buy happiness–that it’s possible to be happy and have a good life without making much money.

On one hand, there’s a lot of truth to that. On the other hand, in our society, money can buy a lot of things it shouldn’t.

Like the ability to follow a career path that interests you.

To a certain extent, money has always been able to purchase opportunity; but as Alexandra Kimball discovered, it’s a lot more extreme now than it was for our parents and grandparents. Entire professions are closed off to all but the wealthy, as she experienced firsthand: after years of trying to start a career in journalism, she was able to break into the field only after receiving a surprise inheritance.

Or, say, compassion.

Take this incident that Adam Weistein relates in his response to the original piece.

Last weekend my baby had a fever, and we contemplated taking him to the ER, and my first thought was – had to be – “Oh God, that could wipe out our bank account! Maybe he can just ride it out?” Our status in this Big Financial Game had sucked my basic humanity towards my child away for a minute. If I wish for something better, is that me simply being entitled and delusional?

Or kindness. As Molly Crabapple points out in her brilliant, beautifully written, must-read piece about the relationship between art and money:

So much of the difference between the experiences of rich and poor comes down to kindness. Kindness is scarce. Kindness must be bought.

If you have money, you can pay to live in a bubble of politesse. Excellent wine choice, sir. Here’s your gift bag, madam. Often, you don’t have to pay for it. The mere promise that you might will keep you sipping prosecco and deserving of servile attentions. Soon, you think this treatment is earned.

Meanwhile, we treat the poor with casual cruelty. Single moms on welfare have their homes searched by police to make sure they’re not hiding a man in the closet. But it’s too much to ask bankers to justify the bonuses they sucked off the public teat. The poor get stop-and-frisk, drug tests, and constant distrust.

In our current system, money doesn’t just buy things. It buys the right to be treated like a human being.

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