In the last years of the Long Boom, when economists said recession was a thing of the past, I wrote the “Micropolis saga” about a near future where jobs were scarce and education expensive, and where it was natural to grow your own vegetables to save on the food budget. I tried to show that it was possible to find happiness in such times, and I still believe this.
Well, I probably am rich enough. I have food, clothes, a rented apartment, and a small gaggle of Android devices. What more can a man want in this world? It is nice to get a little more salary now and then, but it would have been nicer if the rest of the Norwegian workforce did not get twice that much increase. The relentless inflow of money squeezes housing prices, which again squeezes rent, which I pay. So if it were up to me, we would have wage- and salary-freeze for the next few years.
That would be nice for other reasons as well: Norwegian incomes are on average about 60% above EU average, and 25% above neighboring Nordic countries. I think we could safely take a breather now. We are awesome, but not THAT more awesome than our blood-brethren.
In America, where I have a bunch of online friends, people are gradually getting used to the new times where they will not automatically earn more money for each passing year. If they are lucky, they will keep their job, and maybe even work no more than last year for the same pay. The economy is picking up, so they say, although this is still largely for borrowed money. Now and then unemployment goes down a little, but there are still many who used to be employed but are now sliding helplessly into poverty. In a society where people pride themselves on being “self-made”, there are not a lot of handholds to stop that slide.
In southern Europe, official unemployment is extremely high in many countries. In all fairness it must be said that these nations have a large black economy, and even during the boom years many were officially unemployed, although they strangely seemed to always have money. Now that actual unemployment has skyrocketed, they may have second thought about not having paid taxes and earned pension rights and higher unemployment benefits. There is no doubt that things are pretty bad in such countries as Spain, Portugal and particularly Greece. But more than in the US, it is a shared misery. When school kids have to search garbage bins for food, as occasionally happens in Greece, you know things are pretty bad. If people had seen this coming, they would have made other decisions: Found a smaller place to live, perhaps, saved more and borrowed less. But every arrow was pointing upward for so long, people took it for granted.
This was the common theme of the rich world for so long, it became second nature. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and each year we earn a little more. Laws of nature. And then the sun turned.
If you can’t afford food or prescription medication, then I’d say no, you aren’t rich enough. (Somewhat depending on whether the reason is that you’ve borrowed a fortune to buy a palace, but I mean after you have tried to balance your economy.)
There are still a lot of us though who don’t face anything like poverty. I mean, basically the entire middle class and most of the working class in the first and second world are better off than my parents were when I was a child. They worked long hours and had little money. We had food and clothes, but the clothes we used at home were patched and darned and (for us kids) handed down, often more than once. Expensive luxuries like oranges were for special occasions, and chocolate and soda were known mainly from visitors – we did not buy those even for Christmas and New Years, if memory serves. On the other hand we managed to subscribe to a couple newspapers and my dad usually got me a book for Christmas or birthday or both each year, as well as some other books for himself and the rest of the family.
I don’t wish myself back to those days, but we survived. We were used to it – in fact, my parents were used to worse, so they felt pretty good about it. No invading armies since the 40es, for instance, and no rationing. Times were good.
I don’t wish myself back to those “good old days” – I rather enjoy the current affluence. But I think looking back a few decades can help us overcome the false despair induced by not getting richer and richer anymore.