, Salem, MA


November 21, 2013

Watson: We can design the economy we need

Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or a conservative, employed or unemployed, wealthy or poor, or fit into no neat category — but are simply American — I’ll bet you are feeling the lack of solid ground under the structures and relationships and dynamics that we call “the economy” today.

Regardless of how any one of us is doing personally, we are fully aware of and affected by the changes and disruptions to many of the features of our economy that once were stable, reliable and effective.

Between 1945 and 1980, not all was right with American life — for example, there were major civil rights problems, homophobia, sexism, political strife and less openness generally — but there were certain important economic relationships and constants that could be counted on.

Among those constants were: domestic manufacturing and industry occupied a large percentage of the economy; a great proportion of jobs paid satisfactory wages and benefits; families could be raised on one income; mostly, economic growth and expansion of economic opportunity, and therefore upward mobility, were reliable; income and wealth inequality were not dramatic; and lastly, consumer activity propelled roughly 70 percent of the economy year after year.

Politically, there were important constants, too, that are quite different from today’s practices. In the 35-year postwar period, there weren’t the supersized roles now played by lobbyists, PACs, cable TV, visual media, the many on-line social and communications platforms, computer data capabilities generally and, lastly, staggering amounts of money.

Whether we applaud or lament the changes, the point is that they are real, and they have had enormous consequences.

Much of the anxiety that Americans are feeling regarding both our economics and our politics stems from our recognition that — more than in the past — we may have less ability to control and shape repairs to those arenas.

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