Working For Nothing

By Lloyd Graff

Workers sew at typical sweatshop in Guatemala City. Photograph: Jaime Puebla/AP.

I read a provocative article by Jeremy Rifkin in last Sunday’s New York Times, “The Rise of Anti-Capitalism.” His thesis is that much of work as we know it is being devalued by the use of machines and robots. Things and services are also trending toward zero in price. The old view of the scarcity of commodities and labor is being turned on its head by the unlimited availability of stuff at almost no cost. He cites robotics and 3D printing using discarded plastic as feedstock as evidence of the trend towards endless deflation of prices. Rifken understands better than Barack Obama that a $10 minimum wage is becoming steadily more uneconomic in the age of Fanuc factories that produce a billion dollars of controls with virtually no people and car making plants like Tesla’s that are highly robotized.

It is a bit terrifying for me, a baby boomer who grew up in a time that almost deified the “work ethic,” to see the promise of abundance for the many without the rigor of work. Consider the dilemma of China, India and Bangladesh (with its $.40/hour pay rate), which have built their economies on cheap labor as they witness the value of human labor steadily devalued. Potentially I see traditional storehouses of value like copper,  protein and hydro carbons trend down because of replenishable substitutes.

Intelligence will also be a purchasable commodity, as significant advances in artificial intelligence over the next 15 years occur. Many predict that by 2029 a robot will actually be able to hold a “real” conversation with a human.

I recently saw the movie Her, which brilliantly explores this theme of the “human” machine. My son-in-law Scott, out in Palo Alto, is working in this field and thinks it may be sooner than you think.

Jeremy Rifkin’s old school socialist point of view is that the government should guide people into non-profit, charitable pursuits, because profitable work will be so hard to find.

I am not in his corner, but I do believe that the steady deflation of the value of labor, stuff and money is going to change life as we know it. As a practicing “worker by choice” I am scared and baffled by the promise of this brave new world. Are you?

Question: Do you “work to live” or “live to work”?

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43 thoughts on “Working For Nothing

  1. Josh

    The question we have to answer is this, do we want a society where all the resources are controlled by the rich who live in a closed off community while the rest of us fend for ourselves or a “Star Trek” community where scarcity doesn’t exist and people work to fulfill their own dreams and passions.

    Like it or not, we have to re-evaluate the idea of wages/time because like it or not more and more jobs WILL be replaced by robots and computer software and no, those advances will simply not create as many new jobs as the jobs they dispossess. You cannot have a consumption based society/economy with absurdly low wages. This is why we see more and more momentum towards things like a basic minimum income or a negative income tax.

    Unfortunately we won’t see any progress until the boomers who are so attached to their false bootstraps mentality are no longer able to vote. No offense Lloyd. Rest assured the boomers who enjoyed numerous benefits from government and were born in one of our nations best economic periods who then systematically voted away all those benefits and screwed up the tax brackets in ways that are dramatically harming the younger generations, they will receive their payback when my generation and those younger than me make up the majority of the voting block. Enjoy the medicare while you have it, and we’ll continue trying to fix the broken system we were left with.

    And while we’re on the topic of boomers, really guys, quit complaining about gay people, us young folks really don’t care if Adam and Steve want to build a happy life together. To each their own if you ask me.

     
    +14
    1. Brian

      I find it funny that everyone is scared of robot’s when the under lying issue is software automation found in machine tools, business & government operating systems, phones, cars, computers, robots, calculators, cash registers, electric motors, tractors, guns, tanks, planes, ships, TV’s, cable television, power grid, and used in all sorts of political science scams such as global warming……… So the robot in manufacturing is now symbol blamed for all of the above? Silly. If you are against the robot put your cell phone down and stop watching TV on your computer as you should throw it away. But most of all quit blaming the manufacturing companies who utilize technology to grow their business as that is how we create manufacturing careers here in the US given today’s global environment.

      Boomers who have created the technology did not create the gap. The idea of the technology is to reduce cost “work smarter not harder”………. Our government is trying to raise inflation which raises the cost of living. “work harder not smarter”………. So while the whole private sector is reducing costs and the government is increasing costs – it is no wonder that we have this conflict. Think about it – those who tax for their income want to raise taxes to increase their pay on those who have to cut cost to improve their income. So who is really greedy now?

      Oh well, don’t worry too much as it may get sorted out by the rest of the world in not wanting the US Dollar as the worlds reserve currency anyway.

      Two things scare me: The government printing money faster than GDP is created by private enterprise. Obamascam on the American people………. Answer to your question -Printing money/Quantitative easing & the political machine shenanigans will force us all to work until we die to pay off the debt of those who just vote for a living……….

       
      +7
      1. Josh

        Sorry Brian, maybe I should have been more clear, when I say “robots” I don’t mean literal robots, I mean everything you listed above and automation of various tasks in general.

         
    2. Joe

      Josh,

      I agree with you….. mostly. The entitlement society is and will continue to be a problem. People are expecting to draw far more money from Social Security and Medicare than they have paid in during their life. This problem will be exacerbated by the coming flood of baby boomers who will be retiring. There are fewer and fewer of us to pay in to support the programs, and with the technology mentioned in this article, less jobs for people to earn money and pay taxes with. I, as a man in my early 40’s know that there will be no Social Security for people in my generation, not in its current form anyway. We also don’t usually have the luxury of a company funded retirement program anymore, so it’s up to us to save for our own retirements (something most boomers didn’t have to worry about). I too would like to see a “Star Trek” like economy but I believe that is unattainable, I think there will have to be a huge change in the way we do business in this country, with more automation the gap between rich and poor will become wider and the fundamental ways we do business must change. We currently have a do nothing congress controlled by lobbyists who can’t and won’t work together. Our country is currently controlled by the NRA, the AARP, union lobbyist’s and many, many others. Until we can elect people who aren’t on the far left, or the far right (Tea Party) nothing will change and our great country will continue it’s downward spiral, technology or not. Oh, and one more thing, the gay marriage debate has nothing to do with this conversation and mentioning it only served to draw attention away from some of the valid points you made.

       
      +4
    1. Eric

      Wow Bill, I thought the only person who agreed with Josh, was Josh… I don’t even know where to begin to reply to Josh’s blather. It’s pointless anyway…

       
      +44
  2. Mike

    Fortunately, there are enough of us boomers that are educating our children not to blindly accept all the left wing BS and rhetoric being thrown at them. There maybe an argument for both sides, but when you factor in human behaviour and common sense, the choice will always be center right thinking.

     
    +10
    1. Josh

      I would say that Nixon’s platform from decades ago is closer to that of current Democrats than current Republicans. The center keeps moving to the right, and I’d like to swing it back the other way a little bit. I also don’t believe either party in congress supports the will of the people, but the status quo but that’s a whole other matter entirely.

       
      +1
  3. Brent Mackintosh

    Automated machines, software, robotics etc. are great until they break down and a human being is called in to debug, repair, re-program, lubricate, rewire, and re-install them.

    Left wing, right wing is really reduced to, “How do you want to be ripped off?” Higher taxes for social welfare programs or higher taxes to be the world’s policeman. I’m voting Libertarian.

     
    +4
  4. Jay Kay

    You see Josh it’s the entitled little sh8ts like you that deserve to have their ass kicked.
    When I was your age I did not go around complaining about the world that was left to me to fix. I worked. I worked 70 -80 hours a week .The lazy littler punks like you who didn’t want the extra hours? I took it from them. I didn’t have time to complain about the gays or the blacks or the underprovided because I was too busy working. I wasn’t making any 6 figure salary pushing a pencil either! I carried forms for concrete in sweltering heat all summer long. I worked 50 plus hours in a factory – That is 6AM to 7 PM every f*&^%$g day even Sundays you worthless little b&$ch! I worked my ass off and you know something? All those years of hard work paid off. Now I can afford my own health care and I can retire if I so choose. That’s right I am a hard working baby booming one percent-er mother&^%$er who doesn’t need to depend on the government- OR would ever consider asking. If you would like the life you think will work in a perfect world take a look at France today. In fact why don’t you move there? America needs hard workers like me – producers; NOT complainers like you.
    And your president says I didn’t deserve it because little complaining jerkoffs like you deserve a better life. Go out and get it you lazy bum!
    You better take this as a wake up call because in another decade you will own it.

     
    +260
    1. Brian

      Yup! It will be interesting to watch all those who got a trophy for just showing up! Because the next trophy they will be getting is the bill…………….

       
      +2
    2. Mike

      A little more colourful than how I would have written it, but exactly to the point. See how many agree with you here on this forum. It will be interesting to see in 20 years when the boomers have left the work force and the millenials are in control, how well the economy works.

       
      +1
    3. Ron B

      + 234… really. Show a little class there JK. You could have made your point without all the name calling… and wouldn’t it be entertaining to schedule your little bout only to find your adversary to be a physical specimen… personally I think you’re lying… 70 to 80 hours a week doing what? I’m pretty sure there’s more to your little biography than ‘Thor meets time clock’.

       
      +4
    4. Craig

      Jay Kay is why I am proud to be an American. Work brings satisfaction and laziness brings covetousness.

       
      +3
    5. Josh

      U mad bro? I have a job, I work 45 hours a week. I have never been on any sort of government assistance. I’m not asking for handouts. I don’t care if you worked 80 hours, it’s irrelevant. People fought and died for a 40 hour work week, you selling yourself for less than you’re worth doesn’t interest me in the least. You probably think you’re a 1%er because you have no concept of what that means, your manner of speech and abrasive attitude make it hard for me to believe you could attain that outside of getting lucky. Either way, just because your life was shit for a few years doesn’t mean you should seek to bring everyone down to your level, it doesn’t mean everyone should have to endure what you did to make their way in the world. You also ignore the fact that the world you grew up in is vastly different than the world today, America had a lot more going for it. You call me a complainer, I call me someone who cares about the problems this imperfect nation has. I don’t think America is as good as it could be, I want to make it better. You just want to make everyone go through the same pain you did. You call me a little shit, you’re the one who needs to grow up.

       
      +7
  5. Robert M

    The currently situation in the US is that no one has to work anymore for food, clothing and shelter. What society would you rather live in. One in which every capable person earns their keep, or one in which the workers support those that choose not to work. I would rather not support the lazy. As far as minimum wage is concerned, raising it a few dollars is not going to raise someone out of poverty and will only add to an inflationary spiral. There is no steady deflation of wages, but there is inflation of goods and services. Electronics and gadgets may be going down in price, but certainly everything else has not, including education, food, housing and energy. Only an education including more advanced training will raise people out of poverty, unless of course you win the lottery. This class warfare promoted by Obama is a smoke screen for his incompetence.

     
    +6
  6. Bill

    Jay Kay,

    “When I was your age I did not go around complaining about the world that was left to me to fix -”
    Thats because your parents generation left our country in great shape , whereas you , and your generation are soley responsible for what we have today, a gawdam mess!!
    And stop with the hever did and with less benefits and lower wages, thanks again you and yours !orseshit about the 20-40 crowd not wanting to work hard, they work harder now than you generation ever did, and all for the priveledge of fewer benefits and lower wages. We have all done our share of 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week, or two jobs ,and having to have the wife work , while the kids are in day care , because the wages you left are so damn low!!
    And another thing Jay, its ignorant old coots like you that need you ass kicked for what you have done to this Nation!

     
    +17
    1. Brian

      It wasn’t the JK and the folks who created business and worked for a living that screwed this county up. Anyway if you two ever get together I my bet is on JK – pack a lunch Bill.

       
      1. Bill

        “The folks that created Buisness” There it is again the arrogance to believe that anyone can create buisness, it is customers that create business.

        And whats makes you think I would allow JK the opportunity to sucker punch me?

         
  7. Bill

    Jay Kay, “When I was your age I did not go around complaining about the world that was left to me to fix -” Thats because your parents generation left our country in great shape , whereas you , and your generation are soley responsible for what we have today, a gawdam mess!!
    And stop with !orseshit about the 20-40 crowd not wanting to work hard, they work harder now than your generation ever did, and all for the priveledge of fewer benefits and lower wages. We have all done our share of 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week, or two jobs ,and having to have the wife work , while the kids are in day care , because the wages you left are so damn low!!
    And another thing Jay, its ignorant old coots like you that need you ass kicked for what you have done to this Nation! –

    Bill

     
    1. jd

      Bill: The greater the population, the lower wages will tend go and the prices of goods will rise. It’s simple supply and demand. So it would seem that the real mistake baby boomers made was to have kids. As far as leaving you with a real mess, I bet you didn’t have air raid drills when you were in school, or have to worry about being drafted.

       
      +1
      1. Bill

        “Bill: The greater the population, the lower wages will tend go ”
        That made absolutley no sense at all, between 1930 and 1980, the population increased didn’t it. Wages were increasing faster than inflation. Then we had the conservative movement, trickle down economics, the offshoring of our manufacturing jobs, most of he companys that shipped jobs over seas were not forced to, there was a decent profit margin for them in America . They did it out of pure short sided greed!

         
        +6
  8. BP

    Capitalism isn’t just another type of economic system, it is what is left when force and control are removed and free people are permitted to make their own decisions. All other economic principals utilize force and control at the expense of freedom.

    Freedom is a pretty cool thing but it cannot exist without Capitalism. If Capitalism is under attack then the concept of a free country most certainly is too.

     
    +17
    1. Bill

      Yeah , capitalism is under attack, on the defensive.. I guess you haven’t noticed that corporations are more profitabel today than ever… The wealthy have never been wealthier and yet are supposed to feel sorry for them cuz their sad that the little people don’t like them anymore.

       
  9. Lloyd GraffLloyd Graff

    I am fascinated by the generational anger and resentment today. It is not exactly what I wrote about but just as interesting. Personally I do not see this hostility between age cohorts but perhaps with my 60 something blinders on I am just missing it?

     
    1. jd

      Lloyd: I sure you will agree that many young “men” of today would never be able to keep up with the women running manual machines during the war effort.

       
    2. Joe

      Lloyd,

      Aside from my earlier comments I want to respond to you as well. I don’t see the hostility myself either, but perhaps you and I are thinking logically rather than emotionally as some on the far left and far right seem to do. I was very disappointed in one of the comments listing the president as “your president”. You may not agree with his idea’s but as Americans he is our president. The election is over, he was elected by the majority, he represents all of us. Respect should be given, if not to the man then to the office. Mutual respect is something sorely needed in the political arena today as those comments show.

       
      +9
    3. Josh

      The boomers see people under 40 as the entitled generation, as is clearly evident in some of these comments. Those of us in the under 40 crowd by and large see boomers as the selfish “me first” “I got mine” generation. There is a definite divergence of mindset, however we will be dismissed as youthful and ignorant while we dismiss boomers as antiquated and unable to adapt. Where it comes from I can’t entirely say. I know I get angry when I see the older generation of union workers selling out the younger workers so they can keep the luxurious benefits they’ve had for years. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We were born of recessions, boomers were born in the best economic period this country has ever seen.

       
      +2
  10. allen

    Jeez Lloyd, you don’t have to look any farther then your own business to know that Jeremy Rifkin’s a clueless schmuck.

    How many of your employees, that’ve lasted more then two weeks, have gotten not one whit more valuable during their employment?

    Ding! Ding! Ding! That’s right, they’ve all gotten more valuable over time since simply by practicing their skills their skills have improved and responding to the varying demands placed on them, have acquired new skills. Given a reasonably stable environment and rewards for increasing their worth people quite naturally become more valuable over time. That’s why you, as an employer, are willing to pay for experience since you know you’re buying skills acquired over time at some other employer’s place of business.

    Part of the reason Rifkin’s a schmuck is that he seems to have no cognizance whatsoever of history.

    We’ve been “devaluing” labor, through robots and automation, for a couple of hundred years and look where we are.

    No other age of humanity has known such universal plenty and things are only going to get worse. Soon every human being on the planet will got to bed with a full belly, have access to a decent education, have decent medical care and on and on. Pretty much any aspect of human existence is better then any time in human history and looks to be very much better in the future.

    Oh the humanity!

    And you might want to check into that whole “witness the value of human labor steadily devalued” thing.

    In fact, wages are uniformly up. So much so, at least in China, that the government’s abandoning it plans to encourage the opening of factories in the western areas of the country. Wages have risen so much on the eastern seaboard cities that factories are being opened to access the lower-priced labor in the relatively less-developed west. And the Chinese are complaining about being unable to compete with low income nations like Vietnam.

    As wealth increases demands don’t diminish, they expand since with wealth comes greater scope of action. Poor people worry about food, the rent, clothing – basic stuff because they’re too poor to give consideration to other demands they might give voice to were they wealthy. Rich people want to be entertained, diverted, fulfilled, educated, gather experiences and lots of other, distinctly not-basic stuff. Since demand creates supply a wealthier human race will have more, not less, demands and those demands will encourage other people to find means to satisfy those demands.

    The problem for the future isn’t a labor glut, driving wages down, but a labor shortage which holds back economic progress.

     
    +1
  11. Robert M

    The reason for the anger is that there is no reason for the economy to suck for younger people. Obama under the direction of his controllers are intentionally screwing this country to install His socialist Statism. He wasn’t kidding when He stated He would fundamentally change this country and not for the better. I am originally from Canada and I can tell you that the USA has become far more left than Canada, which has a much lower corporate tax rate and and not coincidentally lower unemployment rate and higher wages.

     
    +7
  12. Yogesh

    A few weeks back, Google’s newly acquired Motorola unit launched the first phone that was conceived in the post-Google phase. Called the Moto X, this is a landmark device that could eventually be seen as a turning point in way that the world economy is organised. Does that sound like an exaggeration? It probably does. After all, the last few years have seen a lot of innovative gadgets from Apple, Samsung, Nokia et al. What could be so special about the Moto X?
    The answer to that question does not lie in the phone itself. Oh, the phone has come pretty innovative features too, but that’s not the point I’m making. It is this: the Moto X is the first smartphone to the assembled in the United States. In a world where it is automatically assumed that China is the only country where high tech assembly could be done at a low enough cost, that’s a turning point. And while the Moto X is the first such device, there’s a lot of talk from other major consumer electronics companies about similar shift. Apple has said that the its next generation notebooks and possibly iPads could be assembled in the US. Dutch electronics giant Philips too has set up a new factory in Europe where consumer electronics manufacturing is returning after a generation.

    But this doesn’t mean that the US is creating new JOBS. The JOBS are vanishing and they are vanishing because of the ROBOTS. A reality, hard reality to be faced.

     
  13. Emily

    I get really annoyed when older generations bitch about the “Millennial Generation” and and “Generation X” and what stupid, lazy, entitled shits we are. What short memories you have. It wasn’t that long ago that the “Greatest Generation” was bemoaning the certain demise of America with the “selfish” Baby Boomers coming into positions of power. The 20- and 30-somethings I know are smart, hardworking, moral, creative and generous. A lot of us lazy entitled good-for-nothings are not impressed with the whole “I had three jobs and worked 90 hours a week routine.” Many of us believe in working smarter, not harder. I have worked my butt off to have what I have, but couldn’t do it in the same way my parents did. I had to be creative, find unusual opportunities, think outside the box. Gone are the pensions, so I make my own retirement, gone is the employee sponsored health insurance, so I pay for my own on my after-tax income, gone is any type of job security, so I have multiple sources of income. I don’t know what else you want from us. Just as you did when you were young and learning how to function on your own, we are doing the best we can in the world we face today. Errrr …

     
    +8
    1. Brian

      Hey Emily I agree and thanks for being a part of the solution. I also get concerned when the millennial’s & gen x’ers blame the boomers in general. When I was younger I too worked hard and had friends who are smart and worked hard too. Listened to all the coots crow about how hard they worked before us. That is just the passing of the torch called work ethic & discipline. There were no pension opportunities for me either. I had to make my luck & sacrificed time for it. Now I am in a position to give back. I now work at creating manufacturing opportunities and it is hard work at times I still work long hours as I can not shut my mind off to ideas that will build the company. The company that I co-own creates careers in manufacturing by deploying state of the art manufacturing equipment, developing new processes, continuous training and teaching of workforce inside the company, working with great customers & suppliers thus having a company of great people achieving quality service & pofit. We have millennial’s, gen x’ers & boomer’s all working here side by side focused on customer opportunities.

      We are here because of opportunity & not entitlement. I think the argument that pits one generation against the other the generations is unfortunate & not helpful. The best advice I can give is entitlement is a trap created by those who would rather buy votes for a living and give the bill to someone else. A wise old man told me once that charity is a hand up & entitlement is a hand down to the road of hell paved with good intentions.
      One correction though social security did not start out as entitlements in my generation as we had all paid in to them. An entitlement is something for nothing so when they started to give it away to those who did not pay in – those recipients have been entitled…………. I most likely will not see one dime of the money me & my employers paid into SS or MC on my behalf. Like you, I am not entitled to it – I paid for it.

       
      +1
  14. Jim

    I’ve been involved in manufacturing my whole life and in some form of management for over 40 years. I’ve managed my own tool making business (injection molds) along with my father and brother for 25 years. For the past 4 years I’ve been helping to start and run another tool making business. I’ve had the privilege of helping many younger than me learn the trade and learn the business. This includes my two current partners, both more than 20 years younger than me, and my assistant, a fine young man of 21. Most of those that I’ve worked with proved to be skilled and diligent workers. Many went on to run their own businesses or are employed as engineers or managers in other companies now.
    There is no point in one generation criticizing another. There have been fine people and scoundrels in every generation just are is true of every race and of both genders. Economic problems are not new. If you research the history books you will find many examples of economies thriving and then failing.
    Lloyd has raised the issue of devalued labor in today’s economy. This is obviously a sad truth. One would think that greater productivity would lead to a more comfortable and satisfying life for everyone, but it doesn’t seem to have worked that way.
    I have no political comment to make or enough understanding of the economy to place the blame on a particular group, policy, or philosophy. Frankly, I don’t think anyone does. The problems that we of THIS GENERATION face are very difficult. I am convinced that the answer does not exist with the politicians or with “big business.” I would urge everyone to look past politics and generational differences.

     
    +2
  15. Dick Crosby

    There used to be an organization named “Zero Population Growth”, or ZPG for short.
    Maybe it still exists, but I haven’t heard about or from it in years. I think that would be a super idea. If we’d (the whole human race), just stop procreating, the world’s ability to raise enough food to feed us all would be accomplished. People just need to stop scr—–g!
    Robotic farm machinery would do all the work, move it to market, and/or deliver it to our homes, etc. We could all go on vacation, watch TV, play with our electronic toys, etc.
    See! I just offered the solution to the problem. Of course, we’d need big brother to manage the system, and not take more than his or her share. Everything would be wonderful! Right? Obummer! I think we need another czar.

     
    +1
  16. Bryan

    Full disclosure about where the following commentary comes from:

    I am a Gen X business owner with an MBA and I am a one-percenter. I grew up in poverty in a single-parent household with my mother and two sisters. We survived on a combination of family generosity, government assistance and low-paying jobs. I started working at age 15 and moved out on my own at age 18. I worked full time in high school. I originally went to college on a partial scholarship but dropped out after one year, but managed to finish many years later. My wife and I have been married for 25 years and certainly had our share of financial difficulties in the early years. We both worked two jobs in order to get by and continue to work towards our vision of our future.

    The income divide has less to do with generational differences than unrealistic expectations about what it takes to succeed (however you might define that for yourself) and when that “success” should be attainable.

    Every generation has people that are more adept at leveraging their intelligence, education, training and work ethic to build wealth than others in their peer group. This is not a new concept. Survival of the fittest is not a capitalistic, left or right wing concept. It is nature. Success is not mandatory. Survival is not mandatory.

    In our business, we have millennials, Gen X’ers and boomers that “get it”. They are working hard, continuing their education, improving their training and building their lives along the way. We have others in all three of those groups that are less successful than their peers, and they are struggling to reach their version of “success”. This is not a generational divide. We have families, through decent jobs by both breadwinners, that have six figure incomes and a measure of success and comfort that previous generations did not enjoy. We also have others, with similar income and resources, that are completely struggling to make ends meet because of their penchant for new cars, electronics and houses. it never fails to amaze me when a family with income like that has one of their cars repossessed or has to borrow from their 401k to (at least temporarily) avoid foreclosure on the house they couldn’t afford in the first place.

    Which leads to the definition of success and when it might be expected to arrive. This is where I see more of a generational difference, but I stop well short of defining this as purely generational. There are many people in their 30s, 40s and beyond that have these same self-destructive notions. I have an older family member (Greatest Generation) that has never paid anything but cash for a car. He bought his first car with the cash that he had available, and then immediately began saving for his next one. And so on. For 60 years. They bought a new car every 5 years or so, and paid cash every time because a) they began saving for the planned purchase well in advance of making the purchase and b) they chose a car that they could afford at the time. My first car cost $100, because that is how much money that I had to spend for a car. My second one was $2000, because I had more money to spend for a car. And so on for the past 25+ years. Fast forward to today, when married middle-aged families earning six figure combined incomes complain about income inequality and their difficulty in affording two new cars while building their new home. Or kids fresh out of high school that use their first job (in our business, making well above minimum wage) to go into debt to pay for a new car rather than a used one, all while still living at home with their parents and having no concept of what living on their own would cost. Why? They are employed and think they should be able to afford a nice car. At what point does anyone “deserve” a new car or two and/or a new house? The answer is when they can afford it. That concept seems lost on many people, particularly younger people. Priorities seem to be completely backwards in some cases. Many prioritize new cars, new clothes and new phones over basic needs like shelter and food, and then complain that the system is unfair. It’s not unfair, they simply expect to have everything that their older counterparts have earned over decades in only a few years. A few will achieve those expectations, but many more are harmed by this sort of misguided notion.

    Many people complain about the burden of college loans and how paying for those hamper their ability to spend their money on other things that they want or need. There are valid arguments that say the higher education system is broken, but those arguments are not valid for those that knew the system and already incurred the debt. If you took out over $100,000 in college loans in order to get a degree that qualifies you for a job making $40,000 per year at its peak, then that was your own poor decision. You can’t change the game after the fact, and others are not responsible for paying the debt that you signed up for of your own free will. Choosing to go to college and picking a major is an investment decision, and it’s one that many 18-19 year olds are ill prepared to make without some guidance.

    The path to success is relatively simple, but few navigate it without a misstep here or there, while others miss the path completely and fall off the cliff. Work hard. Get as much education or training as you can for your chosen field. Realize that being good at your job benefits you as well as your employer. When an opportunity for advancement arises, seize it. Spend your money according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Buy what you can afford, not what you want. Take on as little debt as possible. And realize that everything is going to cost more than you think in the future, so save your money!

    Thoughtful and patient individuals of every generation have used this sort of approach to build the life that they want rather than the life they inherited from a previous generation.

     

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