The Problem with World Improvers…

Yesterday, we sat in front of the fire. Electricity was out in the hotel. All we could do was to keep the fire going and stay close to it. Alas, the firewood was a little green. It absorbed most of the heat rather than projecting it into the room.

In the hotel, we got to know the other refugees. It turned out that many were from Baltimore…and some were friends of our friends. So, the atmosphere was convivial, if not actually warm.

This morning, the power is still off. It’s hard to write because our hands are so cold!

But we continue to report on the markets…however briefly!

What is amazing about the world improvers is that they never bother to figure out how the world works. It is as though they weren’t interested. Instead, they just want to control it…to force it in one direction or another…and to mold it, as if it were wet mud.

Take David Brooks in the New York Times. He reckons the US isn’t the country it used to be:

[A]mericans have become steadily less mobile. In 1950, 20% of Americans moved in a given year. Now, it’s around 12%. In the 1950s and 1960s, people lived in the same house for an average of five years; now people live in the same house for an average of 8.6 years. When it comes to geographic mobility, we are now at historic lows, no more mobile than people in Denmark or Finland.

Is that a bad thing? Is stability something that needs to be corrected? Brooks thinks so.

[T]oday’s young people are much less mobile than young people from earlier generations. Between the 1980s and the 2000s alone, mobility among young adults dropped by 41%.

[A] big factor here is a loss in self-confidence. It takes faith to move. You are putting yourself through temporary expense and hardship because you have faith that over the long run you will slingshot forward. Many highly educated people, who are still moving in high numbers, have that long-term faith. Less-educated people often do not.

This loss of faith is evident in other areas of life. Fertility rates, a good marker of confidence, are down. Even accounting for cyclical changes, people are less likely to voluntarily vacate a job in search of a better one. Only 46% of white Americans believe they have a good chance of improving their standard of living, the lowest levels in the history of the General Social Survey.

Peter Beinart wrote a fascinating piece for National Journal, arguing that Americans used to have much more faith in capitalism, a classless society, America’s role in the world and organized religion than people from Europe. But now American attitudes resemble European attitudes, and when you just look at young people, American exceptionalism is basically gone.

Now, fewer young Americans believe in capitalism than young Europeans.

Who would have thought?

What is really going on? Are mobility and appreciation for free enterprise parts of the same thing? Or are they different things? Is the loss of mobility really a bad thing?

Brooks doesn’t even ask. Instead, he just comes up with a crackpot solution: Give people vouchers to help them move!

We won’t grace that suggestion with a discussion. It is self-evidently absurd and ridiculous.


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

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Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and Money.

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