Free Ponies will be the Death of America

Almost six months ago, I lost my job.

Since that time, I have sent out easily over 250 resumes, many of which were sent to law firms where friends were partners. They have netted me a grand total of three interviews. My friends are telling me that for jobs that pay roughly 75% of what I used to make, they are getting over 150 applications. When I graduated from law school, roughly 95% of my graduating class had real jobs. I ran into a recent graduate the other day and she told me that this year, only about 40% of the most recent graduating class is employed. I have never encountered a market this brutal in any field in which I have worked, and the struggle against complete surrender is a daily endeavor.

In the meantime, I have been doing contract work when it is available. It is not nearly enough, but it is miles better than nothing and I am thrilled to have it. When I don’t, I sit around for interminable days and fire off more resumes that I am nearly sure will never result in anything. I am hopelessly behind on innumerable bills, including my house and over $160,000 in student loans – so far behind that even if I found permanent work tomorrow, I would never be able to sort out my arrearage.  Without the completely undeserved generosity of family and friends, I’m not sure how I’d be eating. When I came out of law school, they were handing out more six figure jobs than they had people available to fill them – now there isn’t anything in sight that could even be qualified as full-time. I recently went to Outback steakhouse and applied for a job – which I didn’t get because the manager was sure I’d just bail and go back to lawyering any day.

So, you know, for people who are frustrated about the current state of the economy, I get it. I don’t really like to talk about any of the stuff I just mentioned above, but I felt compelled when someone pointed out a couple of websites to me today. The first is a list of proposed list of demands for the Occupy Wall Street crowd. The second is called we are the 99 per cent and it is basically the same concept. And after reading these websites, I don’t know whether these people are trying to destroy America, or whether they have already succeded.

I am going to try to suppress the overwhelming urge to mock people who think every United States citizen deserves to be paid $20 an hour for not working, or that Wall Street ought to pay a trillion dollars (which I am told is a figure that is more than twice the total equity of every firm on Wall Street combined) to replant rain forests. Nor will I comment on people who are surprised that they don’t have marketable skills after spending $60,000 on a degree in jazz flute in any economy. While the people who have contributed to these websites are clearly not very good at life skills (or math), there are lots of people who have been legitimately knocked on their keister and now find themselves unable to pay bills they know they owe but simply don’t have the money for.

The overwhelming majority of them thankfully aren’t asking for anything as stupid or unrealistic as this:

Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the “Books.” World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the “Books.” And I don’t mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.

However, the number of people who think that the government can (or worse, should) do equally impossible and inadvisable things seems way too high, based on the state of politics in this country. It is not disconcerting that people are distressed and distraught over the economy and their own – what’s troublesome is the number of people who do not understand that it will not and can not be fixed with the wave of a magic wand. Way too many people are right now hoping that something will just… happen… and things will magically be the way they were in 2006.

It is time to face reality. I am not nearly well-informed enough to offer even an educated guess as to the immediate cause of the market crash and subsequent recession/depression. But it seems painfully clear at this point that a substantial portion of the economic growth we enjoyed in the years prior to 2007 was entirely illusory and funded by ill-advised and unsustainable lending practices. This is a problem that doesn’t solve itself overnight. And moreover, when it is “solved,” a substantial portion of us will nonetheless have to accept a lifestyle that is much less comfortable than the ones we enjoyed 5 years ago.

What scares me – I mean, truly terrifies me – about this entire situation is not what I am going to do about my own predicament (although I would be lying if I said it did not cause me substantial amounts of stress). It is that no Presidential candidate who stands a chance of winning can afford to say anything like the preceding paragraph. It would be political suicide for any candidate – Republican or Democrat – to suggest aloud, “You know what? As a candidate I can fix things around the edges and start us on the road to recovery, but if we’re being perfectly honest with each other, it’s going to be a long time (if ever) before things get back to the way they were.”

And if the American people cannot stand to hear that message even when it is the manifest truth, we are in serious trouble. Because what it means is that we have become a nation in which people cannot be told to act like adults because we are no longer capable of doing it. And a nation where people have to be promised free ponies and unicorn dust even when everyone can see there’s no more ponies in the stable is a nation that’s just biding its time until final collapse.

Where is the candidate who has a reasonable shot at winning, even in the alleged party of personal responsibility, who will stand up and say something minor and simple, like, “The retirement age for social security is going to have to be raised. Sorry, but there it is.” Just something that small and simple as a starting point for the reality that must be driven home to people that the government is eventually going to have to do less for people? Such a candidate does not exist because in today’s political climate, such a candidate cannot exist. And that, folks, is very bad news indeed.

Maybe I am alone in being somewhat nervous at the rhetoric I’ve heard thus far on the campaign trail. I have no doubt that any of the GOP candidates, even including Ron Paul, would do a better job of being President than Obama. The problem with Obama is not that he’s doing nothing, as is often implied; the problem is that he’s doing the wrong things. The things he is doing are providing minimal and largely ineffectual relief in the present and creating worse problems in the future. That, by all means, should be criticized. But by implication I’m concerned that some GOP candidates are inadvertently creating Obama-like expectations (a la 2008) with grandiose promises about the improvements that will occur once he is gone.

Improvements may well occur; however, things are simply not going to go back to the way they were overnight and it is dangerous to suggest that they will. Repeating this message ad nauseam every Presidential election cycle only further entrenches the belief that the Federal government is the key determining factor in the existence vel non of jobs, which is exactly the sort of thinking that leads to moronic websites like the ones listed above.

America is going to go through a difficult time of readjustment and we will only get through it by knuckling down, determining to generate more productivity and make do with less – in other words, doing the things that brought us through before. If we have become so cushy and coddled that we can’t even stand to hear that it needs to be done again, then we are lost.