It’s morning in New York, as the permanent part-time no-benefits lumpenproletariat stumbles off to work. Coming from buildings in which human beings were never meant to dwell—and likely still not zoned that way—they cross under or over the moat that protects the island of Manhattan. This island, which as time goes on more and more resembles an amalgamation of the island of St. Barts and Disneyworld, remains a place of work for many, even if less and less a place of residence. For most, the wages remain low, benefits non-existent, and the outputs high.
Those who work hard (and perhaps harder than some of their lumpenprole compatriots!) have suffered immensely at the hands of those in power and in the media of late. These members of the ever-so-productive and ever-suffering brokerage/hedge fund/mortgage sector will finally get some relief. Though they and many of their compatriots already only pay a 15% tax rate on their capital gains (likely the majority of their earnings), they will not have to face the incredible burden of having their income taxes rise from 35% to an incredible 39%, reverting to the levels they have had to suffer during that wretched and oppressive era known as the 1990s. They have earned their due.
For the lumpenproletariat, even those who hang on in the semi-formal economy of places like Bushwick, Crown Heights, and Long Island City, there remain brutal and increasingly regressive taxes. God help the smokers; first the negative impact on their health, now the need to pay an additional $6.85 per pack on an addictive drug that remains legal and marketed to them. Don’t forget the 8.875% sales tax on many other goods, and that tax on the poor, desperate, and ignorant known as the lottery. And for the permalancers, the joy of filing their taxes can be combined with the increasing difficulty of actually receiving their pay.
But when there's a unemployment rate that hovers at 10%, that means that the labor force has a 90% employment rate, amirite? Maybe you're one of the lucky 17,000,000 Americans who have a college degree but have a job that doesn't require one? Or some sort of reverse Good Will Hunting, like the over 5,000 American janitors who hold Ph.D.'s? The unemployment rate is the highest among the college-educated since official statistics have been collected, and student loan debt has recently surpassed credit card debt in size, rising this past summer to $829.785 billion in total. The growing number of private for-profit colleges are joining with many of their compatriots (traditional private and public colleges) in functioning more as debt-creation machines than places that prepare free thinkers and competant workers to enter civil society and the job market. For those not college-educated, they avoid the debt but face even worse job prospects.
But, there are bread and circuses! Who needs soup kitchens when one can purchase a slice of pizza for a mere dollar? Just be prepared to line up in the frigid cold this winter as if it were a soup kitchen! Between that, food stamps and Kennedy Fried Chicken, everyone can get their due. As for circuses, there is a generally excellent scene in the arts and music across the various boroughs of this fine city. For a mere $5-$10, one can hear genuinely innovative music and see avant-garde art, and drink alcohol (even underage—gasp!) in semi-tolerated DIY venues, in which the drink is cheap or easily smuggled therein. An engaging scene with innumerable cultural opportunities, if one can survive it and the often multiple forms of work that fund entry to it. The City and the cops don't even have the wherewithal or the will to shut them down, and whenever they do, another venue will spring up in its place. Hooray!
As our country descends toward kleptocracy and kakistocracy, there are many things to worry about. How our "recovered" economy will co-exist with a society that will feature permanently high unemployment and ever-increasing income inequality is a central question. The potentially terminal imperial decline of the United States is another. But the most startling thing is not that these processes are occurring, rather that the generation in its 20s right now (Generation Y/Generation Next™/The Pepsi® Generation) will likely be the first in American history to generally do worse than their parents' generation (in terms of a variety of social indicators) and they do not seem to be outraged by this. In stark contrast to their parents from the much mocked Baby Boomer Generation, this generation for the most part does not organize politically in a meaningful way and does not take to the streets in protest (unlike, say their peers in the United Kingdom, when faced with drastic university tuition increases). Heck, they don't even vote—in the 2010 midterm election, the percentage of eligible voters aged 18-29 who went to the polls actually declined—from 23.5% in 2006 to 20.9% in 2010.
But so what? We live in the coolest city on Earth! Perhaps New York’s cultural and artistic scene of the 2010s will surpass Berlin of the Goldene Zwanziger (“Golden 20s”)! Who knows, America may even surpass Germany in what came after the Goldene Zwanziger as well…