The Story of the Greater Recession of 2021

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Buyer Beware! Now the story of the wealthiest country in the world who lost everything and the one (two?) generation(s) who had no choice but to keep all Americans together.

New York, NY–

“The fundamentals of our economy are strong. They’re getting stronger.” — 2008 Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

A sentence uttered that along with the events of the financial collapse, ended the competitive portion of the 2008 Presidential election campaign. Oh, how far the country has fallen since those days….

This site has often analyzed through its different formats the culture war and generational politics. While we have differed often on if the so-called “culture war” we have been relatively unanimous in agreeing (often loudly) that the country and especially the Democratic Party needs serious generational change in its leadership and downward. I won’t get into the particulars of those arguments here.

Throughout some of the Obama years it looked like we were legally settling many of our long-standing culture war issues, which is ultimately where they should end up (freedom wins out across the board, etc.) but the events of this past week have thrown that into severe doubt, if not outright professionally wrong. Make no mistake that if President Trump nominates a reactionary “conservative” that waxes philosophic about originalism, landmark decisions like Roe are likely to be overturned or at the very least, severely chipped away at. If you live in a state that doesn’t have the abortion right codified on the books, as is the case in the “blue state” of New York, I’d start lobbying your state legislature now.

With the once seemingly dying “culture war” getting exacerbated with sheer fire and brimstone by the 2016 Trump campaign, his subsequent presidency, and perhaps most accurately, the internet, where do we go from here? When does the slow pace of generational change finally overwhelm our political system? When can we move on from this 50/50 everyone hates everyone, but civility only selectively applies nightmare? For one, I think this is the new “normal” for a long time, so for your own well-being, batten down the hatches and prepare for the long storm. Finally, let me propose a thesis that will get us all thinking about the economics and foreign policy issues that dominated the 2008 presidential campaign primaries and general election — not the Great Recession, but the upcoming Great(er) Recession of 2021 to… we’ll see.

In a previous article I alluded to the grave political mistake Democrats have made in conceding to the President and GOP that this is a good economy. It is foolish to concede this because not only is the economy not good, this is unfortunately the best it’ll be for some time. We’ve had unevenly distributed secular sluggish growth for nearly two decades now, which will only fuel billionaire and millionaire appetites for more corporate tax giveaways. See below.

US GDP (00-09)US GDP (10-17)

President Bush was the first modern day president to never preside over 4% annual growth in GDP.

President Obama was the first modern day president to never preside over 3% annual growth in GDP.

For comparison sake, below is our robust post-war period of relatively shared prosperity.

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Admittedly, much of it was made possible because the rest of the developed industrialized world had been devastated and war-torn.

A regression and slowing of the post-war growth was inevitable, but the structure and soundness of the American economy going from a middle-out economy to what we have today was not. It was preventable.

President Trump, despite his boasts, will also fail to preside over 3% annual growth whether he serves one term or two. See below.

The Greater Recession
2021….just after the 2020 Presidential election, because of course it is.

The only thing that I would amend is the guarantee that 2018 will be as strong or stronger than 2017, because this forecast did not account for the effects of the tariffs, which have especially hit the areas where his strongest supporters reside.

Make no mistake — the fundamentals of this economy are not strong and have not been strong for decades unless you’re a billionaire or a comfortable member of the new professional class aristocracy.

So what is the story behind these numbers and why will this recession be even greater?

These five things I think will happen:

  1. The Dodd-Frank partial repeal (of small-to-mid-sized bank lending ceilings) will continue to spur new real estate, housing, and mortgages (and by extension, mortgage-backed securities). The job market and unemployment being low will work in tandem with this. This is a good thing right?
  2. No. It’s just more short-sighted and short-term thinking. It’s more of the same: socializing the risks and costs, privatizing the gains. Risky lending has now returned under the law. And all those riskier mortgages will be concentrated throughout even fewer big banks this time (because contrary to popular belief, some did die and were not bailed out during the 07-09 Great Recession, while others merged, and my underlying assumption here is that two of the big five banks being critics and skeptics of the Trump “boom” economy see what I’m seeing and will therefore be appropriately cautious and less over-leveraged, at least in theory).
  3. At some point between now and 3 years from now, because they can, the powers that be will repeal Obama-era student loan reforms, which will have a far greater effect over time than the final trigger to the crash. Student loan debt, unlike mortgage loans, is not dischargeable. The student loan bail out that this country and at least two-generational cohorts need will be a decade too late. So the mortgages will be what people decide to unload, because what choice is there? It’s a no-brainer for them. They wouldn’t dare repeal these reforms you say? Yeah…. we keep saying that about a lot of things. The MO of this administration has more or less been to repeal anything Obama did. These relatively obscure reforms in comparison they’ll eventually get around to. After all, just another chance to “stick it to the libs” (liberal arts degrees in this case).
  4. Just like in 2006, when the housing market was a bubble that few would say would burst into pain, others said would be fine, while the vast majority argued for a soft landing somewhere in the middle, economic optimism was too high (just like today), and jobs (but not wages) plentiful, unemployment superficially low. What happened then? In 2006 the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. In 2018, the Fed raised rates to 1.75 up from 1.5 and signal two more raises will be coming. This will effect flex-rate mortgages, not nearly as common as fixed-rate mortgages but common enough to trigger the underlying problem in-tandem with the fundamental unsoundness of the U.S. economy and fiscal health of the country. With all of the repeat conditions in place and confidence surging too high, we’ll be in for a repeat. History is one damn thing after another, and it often rhymes, like poetry and the Star Wars saga.
  5. If the GOP still has majorities and is led by people philosophically disinclined to do anything. President Trump, not a candidate, but THE president, and also an economic illiterate, surrounded by self-interest, kleptocrats, and professionally wrong economic advisors, will dispense of the ridiculous myth that those who have had business success know things about the overall economy and economics. If in office, like President Bush before him, President Trump will actually be the most likely to do something just because we’ll be reeling and perhaps finally, his perpetual lying will run up against the reality of physics and economics for even his most diehard supporters. He’ll need Democratic votes to do anything, and time will tell whether the fall of ’08 W. Bush and Democratic-led bipartisan bailout effort will commence. If the GOP holds both houses of Congress, which is very well possible if ’18 is a disappointing midterm for Dems, and Trump is re-elected, may be their response will be pure-Hooverville. Who did respond, but too little, too late. Combined with the longer term automation problems that neither party has a plan for, wages not rising fast enough, if at all, and a still ineffective opposition party (but a slowly improving and learning grassroots movement outside the party desperate for reform) — we’ll enter a deep and painful Great Recession. The Great(er) Recession of 2021–?? With all of these predictions, it goes without saying that I hope I’ll be wrong. Why am I so certain?

Human nature mostly. Think of what housing entails, think of the chain of established relationships from buyer to broker to seller. From lender to developer to manufacturing to construction. Everyone is an optimist in that chain, wanting to make something happen for both themselves and their clients 

Real estate agents. Lenders. Salespeople. The dream of home ownership. The collision of self-interest. The pursuit of happiness if you will. And if it is not self -interest, it is forced consumerism.

Think of the history of the post-industrial age. Titanic. WWI. Great Depression. WWII. Every time there was a chorus of wild-eyed optimists excited for the future, and every time they were professionally and horrifically wrong.

Think to our own time, after the Cold War had ended and the Soviet Union was breaking up, one of the finest and most famous political scientists and political economists of our time had announced our great triumph. Liberal democracy has triumphed as the final stage of human organization. We’ve reached the “end of history.”

Think of 2016. Clinton will definitely win.

All of them very serious people, all of them very disastrously and professionally wrong.

A good economy they will say, don’t be so negative, etc.

But this isn’t a good economy. It’s a fictional one. Sluggish growth for nearly two decades now. Instead of the Great Depression, think the original Great Depression–the Long Depression.

I point to a quote from Gandhi about seven things that will destroy us to back up my assertion that this is a fictional economy.

The top one — Wealth without work.

GOP politicians love to wax philosophic about work but they cannot see fit to agree to a tax code that treats wealth-based and passive income the same as labor income. If you work you are taxed more than if you don’t work in this country. The GOP doesn’t value work, they value wealth. Citizens United has created few incentives for elected officials to put the interests of workers ahead of the interests of organized wealth and money. Only a government in D.C. that challenges concentrated wealth and money can stem this tide at this moment in our history.

The truth is that we’ve been doing wealth without work for some time, and it’s that truth that has continued to erode at our democracy, and as we’re seeing this week — our rights.

7 Things That Will Destroy UsAnd this is why housing and real estate is the key, and a middle-out economy essential. It’s entirely possible, as some believe, that all U.S. growth the past few decades can be accounted for through real estate, which itself has contributed to and driven increasing economic inequality, as the rapid rise in real estate values have created obscene levels of wealth in some major cities, sending homelessness levels to a crisis point, as well as creating an affordable housing crisis along with it, especially in the tech-hubs, while creating “sacrifice zones” elsewhere. Real estate is a great investment throughout human history, the most reliable one. But there is an ocean of difference between that 1985 home purchased in NYC, LA, Seattle, or San Francisco and Detroit, St. Louis, etc.

Rural America has not faired much better than the sacrifice zones, with some small towns disappearing off the map entirely. Family farms being sacrificed to corporate farming. Wall Street winning out over the concerns of Main Street time and again.

This unsoundness to the American economy isn’t a weather pattern. It’s been in our choices, in our policies and budgets, in our media and culture, and was warned about on the horizon by President Jimmy Carter, a crisis of confidence that lingers with us today and has been exacerbated, a speech that many still deride as the “malaise” speech. But President Carter was right. I’m not here to tell you what you want to hear. You have President Reagan or President Clinton for that, and while they were smiling and making you feel better, their policies were setting the stage for the current era in which we live.

President Trump may similarly make some people feel better that America is back and can be great again. But once again, his policies have doubled-down on exactly what got us here, have set the stage for making things worse in the long run, and his lack of adherence to democratic norms and traditions, combined with a consistent need to drum up increased fear and hatred within his base, make the next economic downturn a potential catalyst for even worse and unthinkable events. But we can do better, and we can go another way. If we can only summon the courage to stop lying to ourselves.

Ultimately, like the election of Trump itself — the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. 

“Education Is The Key”, Says Politician With No Interest In Solving Societal Problems

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Richard Boone (D-R), speaking in front a podium at the capitol on Wednesday, offered several platitudes about education being critical, which will justify his decades-long inaction and destruction of several policy areas.

Washington, D.C. — In front of hoard of angry constituents, reporters who make five figures and are bizarrely more despised than politicians who make six figures, and several casual passer-bys, Rep. Boone from the state of Fremont, stressed that it was critical for the “next generation to receive a high quality education, and that the children are our future.” Statements like these make Boone, who has represented a midwestern district in the equally midwestern state of Fremont, feel better about his decades-long inaction in the policy areas of health care, energy, the environment, taxes, and jobs. From all appearances, his offering of this olive branch of “education” to constituents that have suffered greatly after the decades long outsourcing and automating of several factories in the district, landed mostly on deaf ears.

Boone, a member of the Democratic-Republican Party and co-chair of the Freedom and Liberty in the Same Sentence Caucus, will most likely be re-elected, with his particular brand of cultural populism that features literature, billboards, and T.V. ads every two years citing his critical work on “stopping the hipster invasion of Fremont.” This type of campaign may especially resonate this year, as Fremont youth have taken to starting bands, sitting at coffee shops, and painting graffiti on sidewalks with phrases like “All You Need Is Love” and “Make Peace, Not War”, rather than working two to three minimum wage service jobs to pay rent.

“There is a real youth crisis today, this generation just doesn’t know the value of hard work”, said local Rep. Boone supporter and sometimes staffer William Carlisle, who is paid handsomely each cycle to more or less drop litter on the ground in the form of “lit drops” that the heavy midwestern wind inevitably blows away into the street. These funds come mostly from pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies to kill health care reform, and from the chamber of commerce to kill increases to the minimum wage, “We’ve gotta re-elect Rep. Boone next fall”, exclaimed Carlisle. “He knows how to keep the hipsters out of Fremont like Jon Snow and the White Walkers.”

Rep. Boone plans to serve 6 or 8 more terms before turning things over to his staffer, who by then at the youthful age of 51, should be very adept at quoting platitudes about educating the next generation to do all of the work that he refuses do to do.

Rep. Boone could not be reached for a quote on this article, and this journalist kindly requests that hate mail sent by his supporters be kept within the realm of legality and respectability. 

This Week on the Interwebs

The Controlled Burn
A lot happened this week, but I keep coming back to the Joker line in The Dark Knight, sometimes people just want to “watch the world burn.” Not much unites the country these days, but one thing nearly everyone under the age of 45 can agree on, the status quo has not been working for some time.

Beginning a new regular-to-semi-regular series on this website, an internet and news of the week round-up that will be graph-laden and told in a very ad-hoc manner. For the article and commentary news round-up, Pat Meacham has you covered.

Depending on your perspective, this week was either the beginning of Watergate Part II (dir. by Oliver Stone, I’m assuming….), or just another week of the “liberal conspiracy media” trying to ruin the Trump agenda. We’re not doing a very good job as a society of “piercing bubbles” so far, although I will continue nonetheless.

Approval 2 (Boomer Division)
We just crossed the 100 days marker not too long ago, here is where Trump stands, and keep in mind this was before the Comey firing. Most importantly, look at the general trend of the erosion of trust and support for Presidents (in line with eroding support for other American institutions) over the years. Post-Watergate I, partisanship was high but then confidence was briefly restored before returning with a vengeance as soon as the boomer generation assumed complete control of all elected branches of government (Fmr. President Clinton and onward).
Approval 1
Yes, President Trump is different than previous times of polarization and partisanship. He is the most polarizing President in the history of polling. This graph is from right after the inauguration. 
Russia GDP Growth Rate
I don’t pay much attention to the particulars of the Russia investigations. I have no doubt in my mind Putin and Russia wanted Trump elected. Why? 7 straight quarters of negative GDP growth. Russia under Putin has not thrived at all, just the opposite. And if our nation emulates their system we will suffer the same fate (minus differences in natural resources, etc.) and even more stagnant growth (more on this later).

….while we’re on the subject of the future of U.S. public policy…

And America
From the Willy Wonka Honest Trailer on YouTube–check it out if you have time. Hilarious and also this…
What Obesity Used to Look Like
More than 1/3 of U.S. adults are obese and 17.5% of children, couple this with the damning statistic of 20% of U.S. children being in poverty (obviously, through no fault of their own), compared to 4.8% for the Netherlands, there is a lot of room for improvement beyond meaningless and mostly symbolic statements like: “the children are our future.” The obesity crisis has gone under-reported in the U.S. media and has been but one of many reasons that there is no easy fix to the U.S. health care system.

Speaking of….

Fate of 18 Midterms on Older Boomers
If you think the impact of the AHCA passing will surely deliver both houses of Congress to the Democratic Party, think again. You’re counting on a demographic who has voted reliably Republican or Democrat for some time. 
Truth
Ain’t this the truth….
The Pre-existing condition
Please tell me again how the “children are our future?” And why did Hillary Clinton not run on ending child poverty? “It’s Time” to do X, Y, and Z would have been a far better appeal than “I’m With Her” or “Stronger Together”, but I digress. All of this assumes the elites of the Democratic Party knew what they were doing.
Math Is Hard For Fox News
Fox News has had cosmic justice enforced on them in abundance lately. Scandal after scandal, but they can still trot out their old reliable trademark of using accurate statistics to incredibly mislead people. Jeez… if only former President Obama had pressed the job creation button on January 21st…

While we’re on the subject of President Obama, the following undermine GOP arguments that he spent too much during his administration.

So it looks like it wasn’t wild spending, but rather something else that has caused the new normal of sluggish growth. It certainly isn’t sluggish for the wealthy and big corporations….ah, the “job creator” class, what an utter myth.

Consumers create jobs for the most part and workers create value. And until even the so-called “capitalists” of this country understand that, we’re going to suffer from stagnant growth because…. the masses are nearly out of money because…. see below.

Distribution of Income During Expansion
The story since the late 70’s has been unequal growth, wages not rising with productivity and inflation, and its starting to catch up with us no matter who is in charge. Why? Because Tom Frank is right–there is no “party of the people” right now and hasn’t been for some time (circa late 70’s, notice a trend here?)

This has led to a distribution that looks like this….

wealth in america
Clearly, something will have to give here.

There are some that will keep banging the drums for the “magic”, but most working people pounding pavement and trying to take care of their families know the truth–the link between effort and reward is gone and has been for some time.

Want to know what’s behind the actual American carnage and why none of 45’s and the far-right to Alt-Right cabal’s policies will work? Because there is a fundamental disconnect between the world that elites inhabit, and organized money protects, and the actual reality of what is going on and has been the trend in American life for some time.

And this is why the most relevant historical force in the 2016 Presidential election was not Donald Trump–but rather it was Bernie Sanders.

He has proven that small dollar donations can break the donor class monopoly of our political system, or at the very least has proven you can put up one hell of a fight and maybe next (demographically speaking) things will break your way. If it is not broken up, it’ll be hard for much of anything to be made “great”again, although I’d very much settle for “good” outcomes at this point.

Indeed, Mr. Norris was right. We are cursed to live (or fortunate to live?) in interesting times. Anyone who has been following developments between the Alt-Right and far-left clashing on college campuses lately, or developments like this can conclude that we are cursed to live in interesting times.

So I keep coming back to the Joker and “watching the world burn.”

There are those who have settled into the world as it is and those (overwhelmingly under 45) who are dreaming of the world as it should be. I think the common thread that binds a lot of millennials, most Gen-X’ers, and younger folks together will be our desire to “burn it down.”

The key difference will be what type of burn. At the outset I showed a “controlled burn” that farmers utilize to help the soil and rotate crops. I believe the controlled burn is far preferable to what the Alt-Right is and wants, which I will call the “moral hazard burn.”

The Moral Hazard Burn
That’s all for now, folks.

Take care of each out there. And stay tuned for Agreeing Loudly and the Margin of Error.

Conversations with the Ghost of America’s Future Past

by Carson Starkey and Troy M. Olson

America's Future Past

On a quiet park bench on Central Park West, merely hours after a 2018 GOP strategy conference on how to win back the White House got over, which Carson Starkey and Troy Olson, had just got done attending under the guise of being correspondents. The mood is somber. Not unlike this scene:

Carson

That was profoundly awkward, watching the Republican Party elites trying to win back white working class conservative and populist voters, after thoroughly sabotaging and trashing them during the 2016 “respectable conservative” plot to cheat.

Troy

We really missed the boat when we failed to cash-in on that verbiage via a book deal. “Exposed! The Respectable Conservative Plot to Cheat” by Carson Starkey, J.D.

Carson

Senate Majority Leader Tom Cotton (Gin) is going to relish his future role as Vice Presidential candidate. Julian Castro and Cory Booker are going to have tough sells on the Atlantic coast. Virginia and North Carolina might not remember that they voted for an unlikely candidate only a decade ago. Different times…

Troy

You speak of course of the upcoming ’24 and ’28 elections, they will not be pretty. It’s of course a foregone conclusion that 2020 will be both a blood path that was avoidable and a missed opportunity during a redistricting election. As the person who penned the “Case for Losing” back in early 2016, to the incredible enragement of many on the left, I take no pleasure in having been right. This was avoidable. It always has been. Nice things could be possible and would create nicer people.

Carson

I’ll be sad to see Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, SNPA, and the EPA disappear. But such are the misfortunate that follow a $12 trillion tax cut. Sure, the Iran War will be awful, but privatizing the VA will only add insults to actual injuries. I hope that Treasury Secretary Willard Romney has a plan to deal with the resulting 15 percent unemployment. The human misery will be severe.

Troy

Right. This would all be easier to swallow on our end if so-called “enlightened establishment” did not consistently tell Millennials we are all still too young to be Congressional candidates.

Carson

Now, now…the leadership will pick the right people. They know how to build majorities that last two to four years. So we’ll just accomplish everything that we want during any window where we have the majority.

Troy

Then blame losses on the only relatively popular member of the party (former President Obama).

Carson

Because pragmatism…or something. I’m not really sure about the specific strategy, you’ll have to ask Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin.

Troy

A strategy of protecting economic gains made fifty to sixty years ago is not exactly inspiring.

Carson

That’s just your unrealistic opinion in their eyes, they won’t return your phone calls because they’re fundraising with Jamie Dimon. So I suppose we can talk about what…. a minimum wage hike? Or is that already on the agenda? At the very least… let’s talk privatizing public schools. That has to be a popular idea with our voting base, at least that’s what they will presume.

Troy

This is too depressing. Let’s end by talking C-PAC and how profoundly awkward the atmosphere was in there. Did every working class Joe and Jane just conveniently forget about the fact that the GOP establishment called them a bunch of “slack jawed yokels” two years ago during the Trump fiasco?

Carson

Now to be fair… Jane and Joe have bigger problems than crushing poverty, stagnant wages, and drug (presumably meth) addiction. You’re not giving fair consideration to gay people getting married or the existence of the “hippity hop” music. Ask Ben Carson, he’ll tell you why both are causes for concern.

Troy

Sigh… By the way, we switched the metaphor to Joe because John died working the job because social security retirement is now 68 years old.

Carson

Well obviously. And thank God that his company replaced him with a teenager from Vietnam who’s working for 70 cents a day. The power of the free market.

Troy

But pay day loan company executives who enthusiastically supported Hillary in ’16 said people are living longer now… or something. Yeah, tell that to John’s kids.

Carson

At least you can get a slice of pizza for a dollar.

***Carson and Troy walk in to one of New York City’s fine pizza establishments***  

Troy

God bless New York City.

Carson

Amen.

What you just read may scare you, I know it scares me.

However, there is still something we can collectively do about it.

We can change the future…. if we try.

The United Center Casts a Long, Uncomfortable Shadow Over Garfield Park and Lawndale: On the Road with Springsteen in Chicago, and the Price We Pay for “Our Most American City”

By Carson Starkey

Little girl down on the strand

With that pretty little baby in your hands

Do you remember the story of the promised land

How he crossed the desert sands

And could not enter the chosen land

On the banks of the river he stayed

To face the price you pay

I saw Ta-Nehisi Coates speak at Roosevelt University (my wife Suzie’s graduate school alma mater) on October 9th, 2014. He was on a tour of America’s campuses, promoting his spectacularly important article “The Case for Reparations” that appeared in the June 2014 edition of The Atlantic. His appearance in Chicago was significant because his article focuses on the long-term imposition of economic misery on the overwhelmingly black neighborhoods of the city’s west and south sides. He spent the first thirty minutes or so of his time at the podium summarizing America’s history of political/economic choices that encourage white people taking from black people (Social Security, the GI Bill, housing ordinances). He pointed out reparations, at least the version he proposed in the article, are not meant to address historically distant outcomes, but rather present day injustices. He explained that we don’t have to talk about individual payments to/legislative spending aimed at descendants of slaves based on outcomes that are hundreds of years old (other arguments for other occasions) because the nonwhite people that have suffered under systematic, legalized cheating are very much alive in parts of America (the people that he interviewed during his research who live in Chicago to this day). After a question-and-answer session during which white liberals delivered statements about themselves that lacked relevance, discernible points, or punctuation, most of all question marks, and consumed substantial amounts of time, Mr. Coates described Chicago in a way that I will carry with me forever. “When my European friends ask me about which cities they should visit when they come to this country, I tell them, don’t go to New York or Los Angeles. Go to Chicago. I say that because Chicago is our most American city, for all that entails, both good and bad.” Amen to that.

I was reminded of that moment, and its many layers of truth, when I made my first of three holy pilgrimages to The United Center on January 19th, 2016 to see Bruce Springsteen perform on the second night of “The River” tour. It was one of those moments, along with the time we spend surveying the demographics of Springsteen crowds, that makes/should make every Springsteen fan uncomfortable. Allow me to explain why that is the case. The United Center occupies its own patch of highly profitable real estate in the Near West Side, just slightly set apart from the West Loop, east of Garfield Park and Lawndale. While the United Center is one of America’s rare exceptions as sports stadiums go in that it owes its existence to private funding, the owners of the United Center (Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and (Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf) fall firmly within the mainstream of the our nation’s mega-rich, as they derive astronomical financial benefits from property tax subsidies (“Nothing But Net Profit: Jerry Reinsdorf, Property Tax Relief, and Corporate School Reform on Chicago’s Near West Side,” January 2013).

If showering billionaires with welfare handouts doesn’t upset you, because that’s just the price of freedom or whatever the socially awkward, celibate, casually bigoted young National Review readers are claiming these days, you might choose to examine The United Center’s location in relation to the neighborhoods around it, specifically Garfield Park and Lawndale. Garfield Park and Lawndale, both overwhelmingly black, are often found among the top ten poorest, most violent neighborhoods in our nation. So of course their residents should be able to cast their gaze regularly upon an enormous monument to obscene, publicly subsidized excess, because they wouldn’t be able to put that same money to use in their neighborhoods, obviously. Because investing money in black people is always welfare fraud. Because white people need The United Center to be of top notch quality so that they can enjoy professional sports competitions and live music concerts…that most residents of Garfield Park and Lawndale can’t afford to attend. Because Chicago is “our most American city.”

As I mentioned two paragraphs ago, most Springsteen fans have to confront at least one other unsettling experience when they attend his live performances-the demographics of their fellow travelers. After we finished our meals in the West Loop, strong recommendation for Kaiser Tiger, we hiked to our gate and stood among the trembling faithful (trembling from a mixture of blistering wind and joyful anticipation). Nothing but smiling white people, as far as they eye could behold. Some were talking about how many Springsteen live performances they’ve seen, which one woman in her early sixties estimated to be around twenty-plus. Some were talking about the urgent need, as this was early in the current tour, for Springsteen to add more dates in Europe because, in the words of an Englishwoman, she wanted “more than anything in the world,” and would “pay any amount of money to hear ‘Born in the USA’ live in London.” Whatever they were talking about, everyone was talking about spending substantial amounts of money, and everyone was white. I won’t insult your intelligence by claiming that I refused to buy merchandise because my baseball hat, t-shirt, and poster (all made in America) are intensely cool. But the truth is that I was uneasy with the fact my musical hero, our most vocally left-wing rock n’roll star national treasure, draws a fan base of such minimal diversity. There is no pithy segue or smooth transition for this conclusion. Just discomfort.

We found our seats. I wasn’t entirely certain about how I would respond to “The River.” It’s never been my favorite album. Prior to this tour, I have always been loyal to “Born in the USA,” “Born to Run,” “The Seeger Sessions,” and “Wrecking Ball,” in that order. Although the more I read about this tour, the more I found that E Street Band members all say that “The River” is their favorite album because it replicates the live concert experience with the greatest authenticity (“Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’: Steve Van Zandt Looks Back,” Rolling Stone, February 11th, 2016, and “Max Weinberg on ‘River’ Tour: What He Learned From Bruce Springsteen,” Rolling Stone, February 9th, 2016).

Suzie and I shrieked along to the first five songs (“Meet Me In The City,” “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” “Jackson Cage,” and “Two Hearts,”), standing and dancing in place with total disregard for rhythm or talent. I won’t spend much time explaining Springsteen’s material that deals with fast cars, attractive women, and weekend road trips because there’s no need to do so. These are the songs that everyone can agree upon for any occasion. If you seek bipartisanship/the spirit of compromise anywhere in America, in any form, put members of different communities, or different political views in a sedan and play “Pink Cadillac.” You will have earned a genuine respite from the crushing sadness of ideological rancor that afflicts our society.

We sat down, as standard stadium rock concert etiquette dictates when ballads are playing, for “Independence Day,” which is the definitive father-son airing of grievances-irreconcilable differences among generations anthem of contemporary Western society. Bruce graced us with one of his famous monologues before he started the song, which captured the attention of every person in the building with the collectively somber reverence usually reserved for presidential speechmaking prior to a major war. The signature “Springsteen: Just the Stories” moment set me up for what followed, undoubtedly because I was swept away with overwhelming joy when he started speaking. Those that know me complain, frequently, that I rely on humor far too often to draw attention, deflect sadness, or derail conversation that I find less than compelling, but I swear on my devotion to collective bargaining, that after the first verse, I was sobbing hysterically. Not quiet sniffles followed by watery eyes that went unnoticed. Choking, gasping, uncontrolled spasms of weeping, chest heaving, cascading streams of tears, cheeks glistening, without a shred of self-awareness. Totally out of nowhere. Suzie didn’t know what to do. Nearby spectators must have thought that I was having a nervous breakdown. I would have assured them, no, not the case at all fellow Americana enthusiasts. Just a supernova of emotional clarity, human compassion, and self-reflection. Every petty, savage, low-stakes argument that I ever had with my father came flooding back…battles over car repairs, the 2000 presidential election, Paul Wellstone, my younger brother, my return from the Iraq War…I was vowing to do better, because I couldn’t imagine feeling this way ever again. I don’t remember when, or at what point in the song exactly, I stopped crying. Not terribly important. What I do remember is feeling exhausted…six songs into the show. That can be problematic if the specific performer you’re seeing is famous for consistently delivering three to four hour marathon concerts.

I pulled myself together, and was composed for most of the remaining songs. I strained muscles in my back, shoulders, ribs, neck, and stomach singing along to “Ramrod” and “Cadillac Ranch” because they are my favorite tracks from the album, and because I live under the comical delusion that my Springsteen impression gets magically better for those particular songs. I thought that I would be okay until at least the fan favorite portion of the show (greatest hits that he plays after he completes “The River” album in its entirety) until we reached “The Price You Pay.” Easy to pin down the reason for this meltdown in retrospect. Story of working class misery, same style as “The Promised Land,” he even uses the phrase in the song. Important note-I always cry while screaming along to “The Promised Land.” One of my top five favorite Springsteen songs. So…maybe I was consumed with sadness about America’s vast economic inequality. Maybe I was thinking about Chicago’s ugly contradictions. Maybe I had other, more subtle, below the surface, selfish reasons for that outburst of tears. All I know is that I “felt” everything, deeply, maximally, and with unbridled severity.

Bruce finished “The River,” and moved on to the fan favorite portion, which is synonymous with “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road,” those marquee climaxes of any Springsteen live performance. Before he reached those two most cherished icons, he threw in “The Rising.” All of the Millenials stood and wailed in unison, as we time traveled back to the heady, exuberant summer days of 2008, when we knocked doors for Senator Barry Obama, when The Boss traveled with Senator Barry, rallying stadiums full of liberals, when Senator Barry himself explained his reason for wanting to reside in the White House (“Because I can’t be Bruce Springsteen,” “Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel Form Supergroup for Obama in NYC,” Rolling Stone, October 17th, 2008), and we shook the pillars of American society with our illustrious optimism born from disgust with Iraq and overt Bush administration criminality. I had to stop smiling like a lunatic, and take stock of it all. Damn Bruce…why does everything have to be so “real” with you?

I was fine during “Born to Run.” No tsunami of emotions. Again, I can’t explain it. I know that it’s supposed to be every Springsteen fan’s favorite song according to the standard music critic/journalist narrative. Sang every word, loved it, but nothing compares to “Thunder Road.” I stood, sang, cried, swayed, hugged, and felt my knees buckle numerous times. There is no drug, prescription or illicit, no artificial substance in the universe that can replicate how I feel when I’m singing that Springsteen song.

After three hours and twenty minutes of crowd surfing, mad dashes between stages, and ZERO set breaks because anything less than one hundred percent effort is for America-hating subversives, it was over. Bruce and the E Street Band stepped away from their instruments, bowed, and walked backstage. We had just “seen the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making, legendary E STREET BAND!” That’s Springsteen’s bit at the end of every performance…basically an homage to James Brown, although most reasonably informed fans know that a majority of Springsteen’s live act is an homage to James Brown. Another examination for another day, valued readers, no doubt.

I was disappointed that he didn’t play “Glory Days” or “Born in The USA,” (bucket list goals) but such is the reality of “The River” tour. Too many songs, not enough time in an evening to hit everything before municipal police forces shut down operations, although I would argue that all Springsteen concerts should be legally required to run five hours, minimum. The more complicated problem, as far as seeing those two particular songs, is that The Boss tends to reserve them for his European shows, where the audiences sing with evangelical fervor when they have opportunities to appropriate American cultural experiences. To paraphrase the colonel from “Full Metal Jacket,” inside every European, there is a Bruce Springsteen fan trying to claim American citizenship. I’m not exaggerating when I say that contemporary industrialized society sometimes can’t handle the length and ferocity of live Springsteen performances (“Bruce Springsteen’s Microphone Switched Off at Hyde Park Gig,” The Guardian, July 14th, 2012).

We left The United Center, fatigued, satisfied with our artistic sensibilities, pleased with our intellectual superiority, and filled with security in our status as comfortable white people.Many thanks to Allan Branstiter for allowing public use of that copyrighted term.

We still had to face a world in which a war with Iran (2018, ask Troy Olson) looks inevitable, where The United Center mocks the poverty of Garfield Park and Lawndale with total impunity, and where millionaire welfare checks constitute wise investments but social insurance for working people means big government waste in the language of “respectable” (code for always wrong about outcomes) political/policy discourse. Bruce Springsteen’s concert didn’t and couldn’t solve our problems, and as he would be quick to point out, only we could do that by voting, fundraising, and persuading our fellow citizens. We didn’t have comforting answers, but we had the power of rock n’roll. That would have to suffice as we navigated the perils of “our most American city” in the New Gilded Age.

Let’s hope that Bruce Springsteen and Ta-Nehisi Coates hold a joint event together at some point. The combined fan bases interacting with each other would be worth any price of admission. All proceeds would go to worthy liberal charities. #LeftyLifeGoals #GreatestLiveEventEver

The Greater Recession: Millennials and Housing

by Troy M. Olson

Sallie Mae
“Demographics are destiny.”

Despite spending most of my adult life in the public, academic, and non-profit sectors of the economy, at least until recently, I actually grew up a child of the private sector—the housing industry to be specific. Between housing services and residential investment, the housing industry makes up about 17-18% of GDP. If you’ll recall back before the worst of the financial crisis in the fall of 2008 (an event that ensured a landslide victory for President Obama if that wasn’t assured already), you’ll remember that the housing bubble burst due to credit default swaps and too much subprime lending to those who could not afford to keep up with those payments. While we may magnify the “special” characteristics of our recent human experiences, what happened from 2007 to 2009 is neither particularly special, nor great, but incredibly common. The housing industry is nearly always the first part of the economy to slow down just before a recession hits, and it is also the first to recover from the worst effects of a recession.

In 2009, when most of the country was in the midst of the worst of the recession, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka, the near-trillion dollar Economic Stimulus Package) confirmed two things: one, it helped keep companies like the one my Dad has worked for his entire adult life from having to lay off workers (both manual labor workers in the plant, and some office staff), and two, it confirmed that despite the pronounced ideologies of many American politicians during Boom-town days, when things get tough—everyone becomes a Keynesian.

I start with the housing industry and my connection to it because I know for sure that real work was being done, jobs exist, houses need to be built, set, and buttoned up, etc. I know from my entire life’s experience that those in housing services are hard working members of the real economy. The story we all remember from the last recession is the story of the financial services sector of the economy, characterized best by the continued rise and fall and bail-out story of Wall Street.

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Millennials Will Destroy Everything You Love: Socialists of Fortune

Millennials were the chosen generation. It was said that they would destroy the old social order, not join it. They were to bring equality to the world, not leave it in darkness. This is Part One of one Millennial’s cynical take of the Leftist potential of his generation.

by Allan Branstiter

Group of young people using laptop and plotting the destruction of your hopes and dreams.
Group of Millennials using laptop and plotting the destruction of your hopes and dreams.

It’s 2016 and the importance of the Millennial vote in this election cycle has been the subject of many discussion, especially as it relates to the rise of Bernie Sanders. Pundits have pointed to Sanders’s strong support among Millennials to explain how a self-identified democratic socialist from a state of little consequence could emerge as a  legitimate threat to Hillary Clinton’s coronation as the Democratic presidential candidate. Prior to last year, most Americans knew Sanders as the crazy socialist who sometimes appeared on the Sunday morning political shows to decry the Democratic party’s failure to take legislation far enough to the left. How could this pinko, they think to themselves, challenge THE MOST POWERFUL POLITICAL MACHINE IN AMERICA for the presidency?

Their answer? Those dang moon-bat lefty Millennials are embracing socialism as their preferred alternative to the excesses of modern American capitalism. To many, our generation is seen as either refreshing upstarts who are injecting much needed energy into a tired political process, or ungrateful usurpers who do not appreciate the meaning of fortitude and hard work. I’m here to tell you that Millennials are neither the spiritual saviors of the American left, nor are they fully opposed to capitalism or social inequality. As a result, Democrats should not take their support for granted, and Republicans should not discount the appeal of conservatism among Millennials.

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