Chapter 2 "Careers"

Financial difficulties are often cited as the reason for the breakup of families, and for the destruction of self-concept of particularly the husband whose self-concept is compromised. In recent times, we hear of whole families thrust into homelessness and total poverty, with people put into life-threatening situations. Yet, there is another aspect of financial difficulty that, practically speaking, is really more important to most people, farther away from immediate poverty. That is, it threatens their ability to control their own worlds, and to chose or reject their own human interactions.

Before considering the consequences of today's "hostile" takeovers, oil glut, farm crisis, etc., it is useful to review the "inflationary" crisis of the 1970's ("stagflation"), associated with the Arab oil embargo, Iran, and perhaps Watergate. Of course, the industries most damaged (and sustaining the most job losses) then were heavy consumers of fuels and of other commodities. The primary threat then was that inflation and resource shortages would gradually paralyze the economy, postpone new projects, and lead to reductions in high-paying jobs. To some extent this did happen, but not to the degree feared. However, during the mid 1970's the papers carried horror stories of middle-aged people abruptly fired and unable to find other positions.

The most striking result for me was the erosion of the economy of the older, northern cities. I lived in New York City during the financial crisis of 1975, when the city almost defaulted. The city was badly overstaffed, but labored under the threat of strikes that threatened general chaos and could conceivably have resulted in martial law. Now, the city is fundamentally stable, as a result of massive layoffs and elimination of some redundant services. During this time, there developed the notion that cities are essentially "parasitic," consisting of people who depend upon the outside world for goods that they can't provide for themselves. Companies fled to the suburbs, and often to less populated regions of the country where values were more "traditional" or "conservative."


A nagging problem in all of this is that, compared to other parts of the world, many of our workers really are overpaid. Companies probably cannot continue giving compounded automatic annual raises in salary and bearing the burden of increased benefits costs (social security and health insurance that issue will become increasingly important as well will see in a later chapter, personal behavior can really increase costs and become another burdensome economic pressure) and remain competitive and earn the profits expected in today's deregulated economy. It is not surprising that workers bear the brunt. In the past, workers would have relied on the political strength of unions to pull them up and unions have fulfilled a very important purpose in the past, of stopping undue exploitation by employers, especially during the early days of the Industrial Revolution. Now, they will have to rely on their own ingenuity and competitiveness, and they will often have to make personal sacrifices of lifestyle (and subject their families to the same) in order to continue earning a living.