Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Andrew Reinbach Headshot

Welcome to the United States of Dystopia

Posted: Updated:

Modern medicine is killing America.

Not the way you think. Thanks to modern medicine, more infants live to be adults. And more adults live longer lives -- into their 90s -- with fewer serious health problems. Diseases and conditions that used to be fatal are rarities now.

And there's every reason to believe this blessing will only continue. For one thing, Western civilization is built on the idea that life, itself, is a good. Nobody's throwing that overboard.

And there's the rub. The longer people live, the more money they spend, and is spent on them. Forgetting for the nonce about Social Security, spending that extra money means that pension and health care plans need to make more and more to cover those expenses -- for longer and longer.

But since both employees and their employers can only contribute so much today, that means those plans have to demand the companies they invest in do better and better, quarter by quarter; one down quarter and the investor is off to a company that may do better for a few quarters.

And since it all runs down hill, that means more and more pressure on expenses; lower expenses meaning better profits.

Business expenses, though -- raw materials, real estate costs, utilities -- tend to be inflexible, because in the corporate world, you're talking tough negotiations between relative equals.

So where do you cut? Employment, of course. That's not an equal negotiation. And luckily for employers, modern technology means the worker bees can be expected to work harder and harder, producing more with less.

And they'd better smile when they're doing that, because there's a line behind them who want their job. So technology means that a company needs fewer and fewer employees, with shrinking prospects of pay raises, to produce the same amount of product.

Another place to cut? Employment benefits -- health care, especially. The recent health care bill will never change this, because health care costs will always be higher for older people than younger ones, older people being sicker people, just in the nature of things.

And meanwhile, more kids are finishing school and looking for work every day, competing for fewer and fewer career jobs, and willing to do more and more of what it takes to get them--including offering perfect credentials and a willingness to work for nothing, just to get in the door. All paid for by the parents. Interns, they call them.

This is why the world in which an average American willing to work can expect steady, stable employment, paying a good income, is becoming a thing of the past. Employers have to do better and better or else; and as I said, it all rolls downhill.

Meanwhile, technology is eliminating entire industries, not to mention careers in them, that used to be considered part of the landscape -- consider what's happened to journalism and journalism jobs, for instance. So the old idea of getting your degree, getting on the escalator at the bottom, and getting off at the top, is gone with the wind.

Today, however good they think they are, your typical American can expect to have three careers in their working life. That's usually spun as a great adventure, a chance to kick out the jambs, explore new aspects of yourself, and, generally, continue to grow.

The problem is that when you start a new career, you start at the bottom again. And since you're likely to do that two or three times, you never have a chance to make a good living, or build any equity -- you're running as fast as you can just to stay in place.

Meanwhile, if you're any kind of parent, you need to give your kids at least a fighting chance to have a career in which they can make enough money to live what's become an increasingly expensive, "normal" life.

This can start as early as three, with a good pre-school program, and wind its hideously expensive way through graduate school. Then, three-to-five years of an internship, living in New York, or Chicago, or Washington, making virtually no money, and needing an allowance until they're 30 or so.

After that, if they're lucky, they'll get hired. If they're not hired, they have to start over--though the fact they didn't make the first cut won't do them any favors.

But sooner or later -- hopefully -- they can begin making a living, and start paying off the enormous debts they've taken on as the price of admission to a life that, as recently as the 1980s, was considered the birthright of every American.

We're not even discussing the debts their parents built up along the way. They've got their own problems, the truth of American life today being that if you're not able to retire by 55, you'd better hope you're not laid off, or your company isn't merged, moved, driven into Chapter 11 or sold to a private equity group.

If this happens, it's just tough. You may never get back inside, because the above considerations of technology, productivity, competition for jobs, the social aspects of the workplace, and employment costs are going to kick in. It's nothing personal. But your salad days are over.

In other words, in the world we're building today, your typical American lucky enough to have a professional career will only have about 25 or 30 years to put together enough to live on until they're as old as 90. The rest are just out of luck, buddy.

None of this is any news to anybody who works for a living. But almost nobody thinks about -- or really wants to know -- where this is taking us as a nation. Because forgetting the question of what to do with millions of perfectly able people forced out of what they'd considered secure careers and dumped into an unwelcoming jobs market, you've got to ask yourself; if those hideous expenses are what it takes just to give your kid a shot at a professional career so they can afford an increasingly expensive "normal " life, whose kids are going to get those professional careers?

Rich kids, that's who. And without picking on kids who were born into rich families through no fault of their own, going forward, all this boils down to an America with fewer and fewer career jobs parceled out to more and more people with better and better backgrounds, while more and more people have to make do with less and less.

It leads, in fact, to an America with a handful of people living what we now consider a "normal" life in gated communities with armed guards, and millions of people cast out of the corporate world and left to shift for themselves; a sort of sci-fi dystopia right out of RoboCop.

Politically, this is firewood stacked under the whole idea of America -- a place where you're judged by what you can do, and not who your grandparents were. And the worst part? This has nothing to do with left/right politics -- it's about modern medicine and arithmetic.

So far, I haven't heard many people talking about this, although there are a few, crying in the wilderness. But it's certainly a conversation worth having, and certainly, we need to find ourselves a solution that allows most Americans to live like, well, Americans.

This will have to be a conversation that avoids comfortable bromides about the can-do American spirit, the greatness of the American People, or sneering at people "who won't take jobs they think are beneath them". We have to acknowledge the problem, find common ground, focus on practical solutions -- and make them happen.

If we don't, it will all go up in flames, eventually. That's what happens when you've got a few people with everything, and millions with nothing to lose.

So the question is: Do you love America?