Last night Maddie and I discussed the planned improvements to the Port Authority bus station in Times Square.
I went on a bit of a rant. Basically that the Greatest Generation had gone from abject poverty of the Great Depression to relative stable middle class of the post-war economic boom in the span of a single lifetime that would normally compromise several incremental changes.
It only makes sense that they did for their children everything they could. Baby Boomers were spoiled rotten because their parents did not want to see their children suffer.
But that upward trajectory could not be sustained at those levels of growth. That is not how things work. The Baby Boomers rested their hopes and dreams on the foundations built by others, both figurative and actual. The infrastructure that was built of Keynesian counter cyclical economic practices, say for instance hydraulic powered dams the electrified the West and put men to work. Those dams and the electrification were not done in anticipation of need but in the hope of quelling then current suffering. It was only when war began again and the effort needed planes and ships and bombs that the infrastructure proved useful.
With the war won, the U.S. invested heavily in Europe and Japan through the Marshall Plan to create consumers for American exports. TVs, automobiles, and so forth.
But what did Baby Boomers do? They lowered taxes to keep the economic engines burning at 3% annual growth at the expense of large scale infrastructure investment. They let the great projects of their parents’ generation decay as more and more funds poured into private hands, namely the military-industrial complex. They didn’t invest in the future. Instead they lived off the wealth of promissory notes to be called in on future generations. They are the generation of consumer debt spending. Credit cards and mortgages.
The middle class was meant to provide stability because the bourgeoisie will fight to keep the status quo. Only the status quo Baby Boomers grew up in was not sustainable without heavy investment in the future. They strangled government good deeds for the sake of their own comfort. What inroads they made in the way of civil rights, women’s rights, environmental justice and educational reform were wiped out because they told their kids the problems were all fixed and we lived in a time of permanent prosperity. And then they wondered why their kids struggled to match their level of prosperity.
So what do we have now? An internal economy of consumers who import finished goods and don’t have living wages to support their habits. And we’re behind other nations that have been pouring money into infrastructure this whole while. We live in a time of sharecropper math.
We live in a time where degrees are more expensive than ever and guarantee success less than ever. We live in a time where people have access to more information but less sense. We lack for soul. We are a disheartened people who will grasp any any quick and painless solution as long as it numbs the pain or distracts us momentarily.
On an economic level, big infrastructure projects are needed now more than ever. Is there graft? Yes. Everyone takes a bite, especially in NYC, where vested interests are entrenched and sophisticated. But the point is to invest now in the future instead of coasting on the fumes and expecting future generations to figure it out. This is no time to rest on crumbling laurels.
This is the time for vision. For big thinking. For hope. Progress does not merely happen. It is only the product of conscious effort matched with unforeseen potential and synthesis. There are always forces of induction and subduction at work. People who just assume an upward trajectory of peace and humanity without putting in the work are not just agents of entropy. They are dangerous impediments that contribute to the decline and decay of the work done by previous generations.
Good does not just happen. It requires force of will.