‘Are you not entertained?’ The increasing futility of the GOP nomination process this year

Bret Stephens really sliced and diced the Republican presidential field in today’s Wall Street Journal, in a piece with a headline that does not equivocate: “The GOP Deserves to Lose.” After predicting, as have I, that Barack Obama will win re-election, he goes on to excoriate the challengers:

As for the current GOP field, it’s like confronting a terminal diagnosis. There may be an apparent range of treatments: conventional (Romney), experimental (Gingrich), homeopathic (Paul) or prayerful (Santorum). But none will avail you in the end. Just try to exit laughing.

That’s my theory for why South Carolina gave Newt Gingrich his big primary win on Saturday: Voters instinctively prefer the idea of an entertaining Newt-Obama contest—the aspiring Caesar versus the failed Redeemer—over a dreary Mitt-Obama one. The problem is that voters also know that Gaius Gingrich is liable to deliver his prime-time speeches in purple toga while holding tight to darling Messalina’s—sorry, Callista’s—bejeweled fingers. A primary ballot for Mr. Gingrich is a vote for an entertaining election, not a Republican in the White House.

Newt reminds me less of Claudius than of the fictional Maximus in “Gladiator.” Are you not, indeed, entertained?

And last night, we didn’t even get that. Mitt Romney, looking every inch the sap gladiator whose role in the ring is to approach the headliner hesitantly and poke at him before getting killed (could he have seemed MORE desperate?), dutifully played his part. But Newt, now in the position of front-runner, wouldn’t fight. He didn’t do what he had done in South Carolina, where he recklessly drove the mob wild.

So I have to ask, if there are to be no more circuses, where’s our bread?

72 thoughts on “‘Are you not entertained?’ The increasing futility of the GOP nomination process this year

  1. bud

    One revealing moment about this charade. The moderator asked Newt a question about subsidies for sugarcane farmers. Newt in his best professorial answer gave the only legitimate answer basically saying this stuff is difficult but in theory he’d like to get rid of all these types of subsidies. Seriously Newt, why all the ranting and raving over difficult decisions Obama makes but when confronted with a real-world example of an issue you actually give a pretty darn good answer instead of the red-meat variety. Was this a ploy to try and appear presidential?

    Then the moderator asked Romney. After saying he thought all subsidies should be ended he launches into his campaign speech about all the awful things Obama has done. All of which he’s repeated dozens, if not hundreds of times already. Seriously Mitt, this was a pretty good question that deserved a thoughtful answer not a 2 minute campaign speech. And politicians wonder why they’re dispised so.

  2. Greg Jones

    Think about the last five reasoable candidates for prez: Obama, McCain, Hillary, Romney and Newt.
    If I had presented these five to you 15, or even 20 years ago (not to mention 30 or 40 years), would you not have just laughed uproariously….or MOVED to Australia?

  3. SusanG

    The debate last night was just painful, but I appreciated when Ron Paul agreed with Romney that things had fallen apart for Speaker Gingrich and he did not leave the Speakership voluntarily — he just knew he didn’t have the votes. Paul was there in 1998, and he was just obviously frustrated by Gingrich’s obfuscations and rewriting of history and had to say something.

  4. Steven Davis

    It’s interesting that bud has such a deep hatred toward all Republicans that he’d spend his evening watching the debate. I’m a Republican and I spent my evening watching American Pickers. And I didn’t go to bed worried about whether or not I’m developing a stomach ulcer.

  5. bud

    Greg, we had Richard Nixon in the White House 40 years ago for pete’s sake. Are you suggesting he was a better president than Obama?

  6. Karen McLeod

    My only real concern is that the GOP is tapping into a pool of anti-intellectualism, racism, selfishness, and jingoism. They’re draping all of this in a robe of religiosity that makes Elmer Gantry look saintly. Please understand, I don’t think that this is what you and I think of as the GOP. Many of the people I know who are Republican are as appalled at this display as, well, Bud is. But, apparently, the once reasonable people in the GOP have decided that this is the way to win, and have decided that winning is more important than anything. So they are offering free circuses, and I don’t mean Ringling Bros.

  7. Juan Caruso

    “Are you suggesting he [Nixon] was a better president than Obama?” -Bud

    Was “Watergate” (no homicides) on a par with “Fast and Furious”? Either Obama did not know what was going on in his administration, or he picked an AG who claimed that he did not know what was going.

    Nixon’s administration was generally not so lame, he just did not know how and when not to lie about non-homicdal burglary.

    To me they are all shameful lawyers doing what can be expected in public office. Happily, more and more people seem to be seeing such reality.

    It may not be completely their faults, however. More than anyone else, many lawyers routinely associate with criminals for revenue purposes.

  8. Steve Gordy

    Watching the presidential race fandango this years brings to mind a movie review I read many years ago: “Everyone connected with it deserves censure.”

  9. Brad

    Oops. I had meant to type, in the main post above, “But Newt, now in the position of front-runner…” But I had slipped and written, “But Newt, not in the position of front-runner…”

    I’ve fixed it now. Or not. Whatever. Sorry.

    This is not my fault. Or perhaps I should say, now my fault. I told Cindi Scoppe, back when I started blogging in 2005, that part of her job was thenceforth to read my blog and point out typos. For some reason, early in 2009, she suddenly quit doing it…

  10. Doug Ross

    I actually hope Romney loses in Florida and simply packs up shop and goes home – refusing to endorse Newt, refusing to spend his money on ads. Just go home, Mitt, and spend the rest of your life making as much money as you can and laughing at the poor schlubs who are jealous of success. It’s amazing that we live in a country where a smart, ethical guy is attacked for being successful. Not a hint of scandal in his life. But “it’s not fair” and “he was just lucky” and “he never could have done it with all the little people”. We’re all equal in everything we do. We’re all just one tiny lucky break from being millionaires.

  11. `Kathryn Fenner

    We’ve been catching up on the recently-available-on- Netflix final season of Big Love. I wonder how many people were affected by the less attractive depiction of the LDS church….

  12. Juan Caruso

    @ Doug
    “Not a hint of scandal in his life.”

    Maybe, but there are reasons people distrust Mitt. You yourself mentioned one: “– refusing to endorse Newt”, perhaps he would never do so (McCain was another establishment candidate – mutual endorsements flow therein).
    Newt is NOT an establishment candidate like Romney, and look what the establishment has wrought thus far.

    Other reasons for distrust of Mitt:

    – Swiss bank account – thoroughly legal, but outside the realm of public comprehension, so it begs the question of why the privacy?

    – Lawyer (and a solid member of the Lawyer-Political Complex)

    Otherwise, all of the sentiments you expressed above do carry significant merit.

  13. martin

    Karen, to me, the current sad state of the GOP is most directly tied to Ronald Reagan’s executive order ending the broadcast Fairness Doctrine.

    This enabled GOP/Nixon operative Roger Ailes to go to work for Rupert Murdoch and start Fox News as the permanent propaganda arm of the party. The right is up in arms every time bringing back the Fairness Doctrine is discussed. They are terrified of losing FOX as it is today.

    At this point the party has lost control of its propaganda machine. The damage has been done to the entire body politic as well as the GOP. The GOP politicians no longer lead, they follow where the Fox hosts and their boss leads them.

    Oh, I hear from TV today that Newt has refused to participate in another debate where the audience has been asked to save any reaction for the breaks, no screaming and hollering, like was done last night.

  14. Brad

    Bud, Republicans sound more extreme now because they’re out of power in the White House. Democrats were fully capable of outrageous rhetoric when Bush was in office.

    Today, I heard Gen. Petraeus speak in Columbia. Which brought to mind that infamy from moveon.org, “Gen. Betray-us.” That was the most outrageously offensive, uncalled-for attack I’ve seen in recent years, from any party.

  15. Steven Davis

    @Kathryn – I’m sure the majority of the voters have seen Big Love and over-analyzed it.

    I bet more people are affected by the bicycle peddling doorbell ringers who want to lecture you on their religion.

  16. `Kathryn Fenner

    @Steven– Really–because unless you have HBO, the last season’s only just become available…do you really believe the majority of voters have HBO?

  17. Steven Davis

    @Kathryn – It’s called sarcasm.

    I haven’t seen it, doubt I’d really want to see it, and don’t think it would influence one voter’s decision.

  18. Greg Jones

    Actually, yes, up to a point. It didn’t end well for Nixon, but we haven’t gotten to the end of Obama yet, and I’m not excited about his choices so far.
    More importantly, the President meant something back then. Despite Nixon tarnishing the office, you respected the President. It’s been a while since we’ve had that. Remember how many folks said, “I’d love to go have a beer with Bill Clinton, but I don’t want him as my President”.
    Just saying.

  19. Phillip

    @Doug, you’re missing the point: Romney’s not attacked for being successful. The system that allows him to have a lower tax rate than the average American is what’s being attacked, as well it should be. We are not all just “one tiny lucky break from being millionaires.” (Unless you mean winning the lottery). In fact, socio-economic mobility is less now in the US than in quite a number of other Western countries, including several whose economies would certainly be derided as “socialist” by most American conservatives today. More than ever in America, the economic status into which you were born is likely to be the same one in which you will stay for your whole life.

    So the criticism of Romney’s tax rates are not criticisms of Romney himself for being successful, or being wealthy, per se. They are criticisms of an economic system that doubles down on punishing those who are not as successful, or who may be struggling to make ends meet, through no moral failing of their own. Romney can and should only be criticized for embracing that system of class warfare on the middle and lower classes; not for his own success at working that system.

    It’s exactly like what the President said tonight in the SOTU: “We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference.”

  20. bud

    Greg, no we haven’t gotten to the end of the Obama presidency but look at how dignified and honorable he is compared to his two predicessors. No need to worry about a bimbo eruption or irratating fumbling of the Engish language. He inspires confidence. He tries to work with the other party, often to the point of alienating his base.

    I feel comfortable with him in the White House knowing that he’s neither reckless nor timid. Just today he can take credit for another brilliant accomplishment by Seal Team 6 rescuing hostages in Somalia. Energy use is down and supplies are up on his watch. He was able to pass health care legislation that will benefit millions. Unemployment is dropping from the high levels resulting from the Bush recession. Inflation remains under control.

    While the final chapter remains to be written Obama is starting to assert himself into the high echelons of the American presidency. Richard Nixon will never be regarded in that way.

  21. Doug Ross


    Romney has paid all the taxes he was supposed to pay – and even at the lower capital gains rate, his contribution far exceeds those of most people. In fact, I would guess that if you added up all the taxes paid by every regular reader of this blog in a year, it wouldn’t come close to what Romney pays in a year. That point seems to be ignored in the discussion of tax rates.

    And on top of that, Romney contributes a huge amount of money to charity and his church. Compare that to Joe Biden, who gave a TOTAL of less than $4000 over the course of the decade before he was elected VP. Romney gave more than double that amount PER DAY for the past two years.

    Romney is the model of what we should all strive to be – successful, ethical, and committed to PERSONALLY giving back based on his strong faith. He has put millions of dollars into his campaign to become President.

    Sorry, but the general tenor of the complaints against Romney come from his wealth. He has no control over the tax rates he pays.

  22. Tim

    “Today, I heard Gen. Petraeus speak in Columbia. Which brought to mind that infamy from moveon.org, “Gen. Betray-us.” That was the most outrageously offensive, uncalled-for attack I’ve seen in recent years, from any party.”

    It was cheap, stupid and sophmoric, but really? This day and age you think that’s the ne plus ultra of dopey comments by a political organization?

  23. Brad

    Yes, absolutely. There is no greater insult in politics than treason. That’s what “betray” means.

    And there are few contemporary public figures against whom such a charge would be less justified.

    So yes, absolutely.

  24. Silence

    @ Phillip – If social mobility has fallen in the US, it’s not due to the tax structure. It’s due to people continually making bad choices. Specifically, the choice to consume (above the minimum standard of living) instead of saving or investing for the future.

    The US (and other countries as well) have developed an entire system based on consumption, and consumer credit. Many people that I would regard as “poor” or “working-class” who blow their paychecks on luxury goods – Burberry, LVMH, tattoos, new cars, car accessories, iPhones, cable TV, Air Jordans, and the list could go on and on.

    How can you possibly say that the “economic system” punishes those who are not as successful, when in truth, many of the less successful are doing a pretty damn good job of punishing themselves.

    Granted, not all poor people are spendthrifts. Not all wealthy people are good stewards of capital, either. But I’d wager that poverty is more the result of a string of bad decisions than it is the result of a regressive tax system.

  25. Karen McLeod

    Tim, I have to agree with you. Stupid, sophmoric, and short-lived. Compared to the likes of what Limbaugh, Bachmann, et al. have leveled at this president (including the charge of traitorous–just not a play on his name), and continue to say, it’s comparatively minor political partisan wise. Admittedly, it was ill used against Petraeus, who is not part of partisan politics.

    Phillip, I agree with you. It’s not Romney, nor his wealth, that’s the problem. The system is designed to make it very, very hard to break out of poverty, and continues to hinder folks’ upward mobility. It’s not until you get into the upper middle class range that the current system really starts working for you. Sure, Mr. Romney paid much more tax than we did. He also made much more. As for the argument I have seen that you’ve already paid taxes on the money that capital gains taxes, that’s not true. You’ve already paid the taxes on the money you use to acquire the capital gains. The capital gains tax is on the money you get from that investment, not from the money you put in. And you have to have a lot of money to be able to afford to invest significantly. And you have to have a lot of money to be able to recover from a hit like we all took in 2008. Capitalism is not bad in itself, but uncontrolled capitalism winds down on itself, allowing fewer and fewer people access to wealth while it increases the wealth of a few more and more.

  26. bud

    Yes, absolutely. There is no greater insult in politics than treason. That’s what “betray” means.

    Seriously Brad it was a play on words. Get over this man crush with the general already. Although I find it mildly insulting to Petraeus the real betrayal was on the part of the president in continuing to sell out the fine soldiers of the army, the good name of United States and the voters who put him in charge as commander in chief. Check out some of the REALLY over-the-top rhetoric by the likes of Anne Coulter, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck if you really want some downright dangerous comments. Move-on is a hero in my eyes for keeping the Iraq war tragedy in the public spotlight. And to slam them for a rather mild play on words is ridiculous.

  27. Brad

    Well, we’re obviously not going to get even in the ballpark of agreement on this, as long as you think “mild” is an appropriate adjective.

    Here’s a counteroffer adjective: “grotesque.”

    Now you come back with one. But “mild” won’t do. “Mild,” applied here, is an insult to language.

  28. Doug Ross


    One of the greatest impediments to upward mobility is the Social Security system. All the money paid into the system is lost when one dies. Imagine every worker contributing 13% of his income for 50 years into a fund with his name on it. That would be REAL wealth that could be transferred between generations.

  29. Karen McLeod

    @ Doug, how about imagining yourself as one of those persons who never had any real opportunity to access real education (you were born to a single mother, who had another child, and worked 2 jobs trying to make ends meet. You were parked with someone who fed you Twinkies and let you sit in front of a TV for hours on end. No one read to you, no one took you to interesting places. Consequently, you never developed the basic skills (including taking turns, following directions, attending) that would have allowed you to hold anything but a minumum wage job. As an adult you worked at various jobs, many of which paid under the table. That allowed you a little more money, but not much. Often you were scrounging to put part time jobs together. You haven’t had any health insurance. So, when you finally “retire” with a broken body at 62, you have how much?

  30. Phillip


    We just have to agree to disagree. To me, you’re spouting classic class warfare, demonizing the majority of those below the poverty line with the examples of some, or grotesquely generalizing even those simply struggling to stay in the middle class, as being where they are strictly because of bad decisions of their own making. I suppose that family members developing chronic or catastrophic illnesses would be a good example of them “punishing themselves”. And so on. I’m not saying it’s ONLY the taxation structure that makes things as they are. But the classic GOP/conservative strategy for thirty years has been to wage class warfare such as to focus the anger of any “slice” of the economic electorate on the “slice” or two right below it, rather than the increasingly rarefied oligarchy that has developed and is responsible for most economic policy in this country.

  31. `Kathryn Fenner

    @Silence–Yes, my husband made the ridiculous decision to study Physics at Harvard and Computer Science at the University of Chicago, and teach at American universities. He hasn’t had a raise for 8(?) years. The cost of living has risen and our savings have taken a huge hit, thanks to decisions of others. Our net income and spending power and net worth have all decreased. I guess he made an irresponsible decision. Maybe if he’d gone into drug dealing and we’d spent every last cent on hedonistic delights, we would be better off, both personally and as a country.

  32. Brad

    Well, it depends… you thinking crack, or powder?

    Think carefully, now… the way y’all have blown decisions in the past, I don’t want you messing up again…

  33. Steven Davis

    @Karen, you just described basically the first part of a friend’s life story who grew up on a small family farm in a very rural midwest state, she graduated high school as her class (12 students) valedictorian, worked her butt off and went to college of an athletic scholarship, attended the top law school in the country on an academic scholarship and is now a managing partner at one of the biggest offices of one of the top 10 law firms in the country by the time she was 40. So excuse me if I don’t feel sorry for someone who wasn’t born with a silver spoon shoved up, well you know where.

    Another friend of mine is the son of two surgeons, had everything he could ask for plus more, barely graduated high school and the last time I heard about him he was likely facing time in prison because his parents high-dollar lawyers were only able to get reduced charges filed.

    Money is a small portion of how someone turns out.

  34. Steven Davis

    @Silence – I walk past homeless people every day on my way in from the parking lot. What are two of them doing every morning… playing with their iPhones. The can’t afford a house, can’t get a job, but have enough disposable income to get the data plan for a Smartphone. Then when the library door opens they go in and use their computers for web surfing.

    The library probably doesn’t allow them to install Angry Birds on the computers.

  35. `Kathryn Fenner

    Actually, he should have gone into econometrics and he could have been a Master of the Universe, Raider of the Lost Pension Fund, and we could just strap the dogs to the roof and boogie to on of our other houses.

  36. Doug Ross

    Also, Karen, my mother was born into the situation you described. Her father died while my grandmother was pregnant. Single mother, born on the day the banks closed in the Depression. Raised in a single unheated room in a tenement for the first ten years. Her story is not unique. It comes down to individuals not government programs.

  37. Phillip

    Doug, and Silence, and Steven: you all pick and choose anecdotal evidence to support your assertions. You choose to see what you want to see, or to think of the examples that spring to mind most readily for you. Just because SOME people are able to heroically overcome terribly adverse circumstances doesn’t mean that most people are able to do that. Just because SOME of those who are homeless & indigent make self-destructive and poor choices doesn’t mean that most people in that situation do so. Homeless people do use the library computers BTW, Steven, to try to look for work (the RCPL does good work on that front). For every “Doug’s mother” or “Steven’s friend” of our current day, how many others in similarly dire circumstances suffer one too many critical blows to their finances, either a health crisis or losing their home or their broken-down car finally dying leaving them with few good options to look or keep work in a society where public transport is virtually nil in most places?

    Of course you can’t guarantee that everybody’s situation will be remedied or turn out OK. But it’s a question of balance, and priorities. And, even with our current difficulties, overall we are by far a rich enough country to insure that the absolute bottom doesn’t have to fall out for those who are legitimately struggling and legitimately trying to do the right thing, work, support a family, etc. That’s why it’s called a safety “net.” All that requires is that we make sure we have a truly fair and progressive tax structure, and that our funding priorities are put in proper order (e.g., “Food Not Bombs,” to borrow one group’s slogan). We can do that without crippling the ability of entrepreneurs to create, of businesses to start and to grow, or of the most innovative and successful individuals to achieve tremendous financial wealth through their own efforts and talents.

  38. Silence

    @Phillip, Kathryn – I grew up in a “middle” class household, both my parents worked full time, and both of them hold advanced degrees. Due to an illness, we suffered a major setback when I was about 14, my father was self employed, and the family didn’t really ever recover financially. That said, my family put a high value on education. I put myself through our in-state university and received a BA & MBA prior to moving to SC to work on my PhD. My middle sister graduated from an Ivy-League school (swimming scholarship + student loans, don’t let anyone say that DIII and Ivy League schools don’t give athletic scholarships) and my youngest sister graduated from a state school and is a nurse. We all had to make sacrifices for our education and our current level of success. None of us may have picked the most lucrative endeavors, but that was our choice.
    It’s good that you all had savings to fall back on, I know that lots of state workers’ salaries haven’t kept pace with the real cost of living. But times are tough all around. It’s tough to pay the bills and still fully fund my 401(k) and IRA. I will probably not be able to afford to go both to Yosimite and Mustique this year, and I guess I’ll keep driving my 9 year old car… We all make choices, and LOTS of people, even hard-working, good, moral folks make bad decisions. We need to go back to the old paradigm of thrift though, not the current one of consumption.

  39. Doug Ross


    The safety nets have existed for decades. Why aren’t things getting better? It isn’t because of rich people not paying taxes. It is because the programs don’t work.

    Tell me what you would do to solve the problems that face the poor. What evidence exists that there is any program that can help people except anecdotally?

  40. Brad

    I don’t know if I want to get into this with y’all, but I would think that a true “safety net” — to the extent that such a metaphorical designation meant anything — would not be about making things better. It would be about keeping things from being worse.

    To me, unemployment insurance would fall under the aegis of “safety net” — something to keep you from starving and being homeless when you fall on hard times (which, by the way, the unemployment payments in SC are insufficient to do). I’d also put temporarily subsidizing COBRA payments as “safety net.” An additional program to retrain people for new careers or something like that, which WOULD be about making things better, would seem to be beyond “safety net.”

  41. Phillip

    @Doug: what Brad said, plus the following: return tax structure to something closer to Reagan-era rates, enact true universal health care coverage (single-payer), cut the defense budget by one-fifth. That’s a start.

  42. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Silence–the rich get richer, while the middle class and lower get poorer–it only very slightly attributable to poor choices. In my father’s day, he pretty much could get a bachelor’s degree, show up for work, work at a comfortable pace, play bridge at lunch and go home on time. He supported two kids, bought a house, had enough saved so neither of us had loans to go to USC. Mom stayed home. We had braces, music lessons, band instruments. He was considerably better off than his father, an auto mechanic. He was hardly an anomaly. Where did that go?

    If I had continued practicing law, representing the corporate raiders (which was actually a blast, except for the “no life” part and the guilt about driving companies under and people out of work), and my husband had gone into finance with his math skillz, we’d own a mansion on Kiawah Island, no doubt, but other than those choices, with three advanced degree in marketable subjects between us, we are only slightly better off than my family, and no better off than his, and we are by far the luckiest people I know.

  43. Doug Ross


    I can go for all of those things. That is different from Social Security which is a safety net with more holes than net (the number of workers contributing for each recipient has steadily declined over the years).

    As for the “guns or butter” debate, the question is really “(guns or butter) AND debt). Spending must consider paying down the debt or else we have no chance of fixing the economy. That debt part that every president and every Congress for the past three decades has ignored cannot be just pushed aside. Bush started the ball rolling and Obama has been kicking it down the road for three years.

    We need a balanced budget amendment.

  44. Doug Ross


    Sorry, but none of what you mentioned will impact the ability of the poor to raise themselves up. You climb the economic ladder through education and work ethic…

    Here’s where the disconnect occurs – Obama said repeatedly that he wouldn’t sign a healthcare bill without single payer. Over and over he said it. Then he did the exact opposite. That’s not leadership. He played politics. And six months from now, when Obamacare is overturned by the Supreme Court (don’t bet against it), what did we end up with? Nothing.

    I would have greater respect for him if he had put his presidency on the line to enact single payer. He punted.

  45. Brad

    OK, here goes… deep breath…

    You ask, “Where did that go?” Well…

    (hang on while I pull the pin out of the grenade…)

    It went away when the overwhelming majority of women in our generation entered the workplace, thereby creating an oversupply of labor so that employers could pay salaries insufficient to maintain a family in the middle class, which meant it was NECESSARY for both people in a couple to work if they had kids, thereby making it impossible for either of them to stay home even if they wanted to, and so forth…

    (now I drop the grenade, and run like a scalded dog…)

  46. Doug Ross


    Where did the money go? Cellphones, cable TV, eating out at restaurants, Ipads, movie tickets, excessive credit card debt, etc. Add all that up for a couple years and tell me you couldn’t put a decent downpayment on a house.

    We are much more of a consumer driven society now where everyone feels entitled to have all the toys that everyone else has. People don’t save, don’t sacrifice, don’t live within their means. This is what led to the housing bubble – everyone was buying with little money down, interest only loans, etc. and then running off to Best Buy to charge a big screen TV. It was destined to collapse.

  47. Brad

    And oh, yeah… the above phenomenon occurred concurrently with the Baby Boom entering the workplace, thereby REALLY creating an oversupply of labor, thereby making it harder for the generation to demand and get higher pay…

  48. Doug Ross


    As they say on tv, “Oh no you didn’t!”

    But I agree with you to some extent). Increasing the labor pool naturally would depress the wages in those areas that require commodity skills.

  49. Silence

    @ Kathryn – Some of the decline in the standard of living can be attributed to the rise of two income households. It now takes two incomes to do what one income did 40-50 years ago.

    There are some other factors though:

    The size of the average American home has doubled since 1950. That average house in 1950 cost about 2.5X the average annual salary.

    Most families in the 1950’s-60’s didn’t have two cars. Most teenagers didn’t have their own car, I am told.

    You probably didn’t grow up with several computers, probably had one small TV instead of several big flat screen models, might not have had a dishwasher or a clothes washer/dryer in the home. You probably only had one phone line, instead of each person having a cell phone. There’s a lot more things to buy nowadays!

    Other than the changes in “middle class” expectations, the biggest culprits, in my opinion, have been the availability of cheap credit and the effects of long term inflation.

    The availability of low interest mortgages, student loans, and auto loans tend to allow prices to rise, that is, up to the point where they cease to be affordable on a monthly basis. It ceases to be a question of “how much does it cost?” and becomes more of a question of “what is the payment on that?”

    So now, instead of paying cash for college (which I did in undergrad too) we gorge on student loans (which aren’t even so cheap anymore) and we put nothing down on a house, buying as much as we can afford, and now instead of a 36 month car loan, we stretch it out to 72 months so that we can buy a more expensive ride.

    By continuing to print money and force inflation on all of us, the Federal Reserve has picked the pockets of savers by an average of 3% annually, since the 1920’s. Coupled with a long lifespan and retirement, many retirees may easily outlive their savings. We the people don’t need to have inflation though. The government probably needs to have inflation so that it can repay its obligations with depreciated dollars.

    You and your husband obviously have chosen a path that prioritizes other things over maximizing your earning potential. My wife and I have done the same. We work hard, but we enjoy our jobs, and we enjoy the time we spend together, and with family. Yes, the rich continue to get richer to the extent that they can more easily spend less than they make (earned or unearned). This allows them to accumulate a surplus that snowballs over time. There’s no reason that the middle class can’t do the same, as long as they watch the bottom line and put compound interest to work. The poor obviously have a tougher time of it, not having a surplus of capital to invest.
    It would be very hard to jump from poor to rich in a generation, but I don’t think it is hard to move from middle class to rich in a lifetime.

  50. Tim

    My guess is that your assumption is pretty simplistic, given that the baby boomers you are talking about are now all retiring from those jobs, which were growing quite nicely until about 2002. If your assertion were correct, then about 1968 we should have had a massive dip in wages as the workforce increased substantially versus the jobs available.

  51. SusanG

    Another big factor is globalization. (Not for Kathryn, but for many). We’ve been forced to automate heavily in order to compete with China (et al) who pay very low wages. The increasing education level required to do the jobs available leaves many people out of the running for a variety of reasons, including that poor choices in adolescence are increasingly difficult to overcome later in life.

  52. Brad

    Tim, what I’m describing are two of many factors — the boom, and the cultural change that led to far more women choosing to work outside the home.

    There were thousands, millions, of other factors — such as the one Silence mentioned of the rising material expectations of the middle class. That, for me coincides with the double incomes. The double incomes made those families more affluent, in general than their parents, at the same time that families who tried to make it on one income struggled to have what their parents had had.

    Basically, the general trend (from which there would be many variations) was that one income was insufficient, while two was MORE than sufficient.

    This led to greater consumerism, which expanded the economy, which made for more jobs, which somewhat offset the effect of the labor oversupply.

    But the fact remains that today, it’s tough for a family to get by on one typical, bachelor-degree salary, but a similar family tends to do pretty well with two.

  53. `Kathryn Fenner

    Actually, we live about the same as my parents did when they were our age–two cars, and one is a lot older than theirs would have been, three bedroom house–one more full bath, but no yard to speak of, unlike theirs–we do have a couple more computers (the others are actually owned by the University or something–paid for with grant money, a microwave (I don’t think my mom had one quite yet)–we have no cable TV, but my parents did have it.

    Just like my parents, we have no debt–we even own our house outright now, but unlike my parents, we have to save 100% of retirement out of salary–no employer match (I don’t think), no pension–professors rarely work long enough to get a pension under the state plan–they spend too long getting an education….My dad got employer stock, pension–safety prizes (ha ha)….and regular raises just to keep up with the cost of living.

    Look at how the rich are truly getting richer, and the rest of us are mostly falling behind….

  54. `Kathryn Fenner

    Oh, and we have only one TV–my parents had two–and still do. We paid far less, adjusting for inflation, for our one moderate sized flat screen than my parents paid for their Trinitron in 1980. In fact, I wonder if we didn’t pay less in absolute dollars–we bought ours for $499–which seems about right for a good-sized Trinitron back then..

  55. Steven Davis

    “no pension–professors rarely work long enough to get a pension under the state plan”

    Which is why faculty have several retirement savings plans to choose from that state employees don’t have to choose from. If hired at the age of 30, making tenure after 7 years it’s not all that uncommon to work until the age of 60 which gives them 30 years of service to the state.

  56. Silence

    I had never heard the assertion that professors don’t get pensions before. My old department recently had a slew of retirees, most of whom had been there for years, and are now “emeritus”. Do emeritus faculty get paid, or a pension or anything? I’d hate to think that there were a bunch of impecunious university retirees walking around Columbia….

  57. `Kathryn Fenner

    The retirement savings plans are just that–403(b) plans, like a 401(k)–I correct myself–we do get some match, but it’s just a savings plan, not a pension plan. Most academics are not willing to gamble on making tenure by 35–which is when they’d have to decide to be in the pension plan to retire at 65. Many academics do not make tenure, and some choose to relocate–for any number of reasons–like Kwame Dawes whose department was shuttered, for example. Another is the “two body” problem, where the spouse may have issues being appropriately employed in the same geographical area.

    I think emeritus is a title of honor. If you keep working, you get paid. If you don’t, you don’t. Some do get pensions–if they worked long enough at one institution (which actually is not necessarily the best model for either professor or University0 and are even TERI–but mostly because they had only the pension option when they started–I’m not sure when 401(k)/403(b) plans started–but it was in response to the issue that many academics and many private sector employees could not count on being employed by the same employer long enough to get a pension. Many lost a lot of pension credit when they had to relocate….

    If you want to see impecunious professors, pick some junior faculty in Arts and Sciences and use The State.com’s salary database–even fairly senior profs may not make $50K– people with PhDs and lots of experience….

  58. Silence

    Yes, my old department was starting new professors right around 50k a few years ago, which is why I work mainly outside of academia, for the most part. I used to be an adjunct as well, but it was decreasingly rewarding as my outside pay rose and my available vacation leave decreased.
    That being said, most of the senior professors in my dept were earning in excess of 100k, many well in excess of 100k.

    On a related note, I know that professors can pay themselves out of their grant money, say, for summer research and that sort of thing. I always wondered if that money was reflected in the salaries listed on the State’s database?

  59. Steven Davis

    “If you want to see impecunious professors, pick some junior faculty in Arts and Sciences and use The State.com’s salary database–even fairly senior profs may not make $50K– people with PhDs and lots of experience….”

    Having worked at two large universities, I’ve seen more than my share of college professors who aren’t worth being paid $50,000.

    A PhD doesn’t mean you’re a valuable employee, in many cases I’ve seen where it’s a diploma declaring the person as an over-educated idiot.

  60. Kathryn Fenner

    My husband usually has a grant, although because he does theoretical research–more pure science than applied, not always. The NSF allows him to get two months summer salary–leaving one month unpaid, and that is not reflected in The State database, I don’t believe. Many areas don’t get much grant funding, and the profs have few opportunities to consult profitably (it’s rare for a historian to get lucrative gigs with Freddie Mac, say 😉 )

    We are far better off than Steve’s non-computer science colleagues, but still lagging behind, with effective income dropping.

  61. Steven Davis

    The new state employee databases are combining all income (salary, stipends, dual-employment, etc.).

    If your effective income is dropping, maybe you need to go back to work to make up the difference. Why should we feel for people who complain about lower income, yet don’t work.

  62. Silence

    @Kathryn – Let me know if you come across any of those Fannie/Freddie type deals, I’ll go 50/50 with you.
    Having a grant would be nice though….

  63. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Steven– if I were to go back to work, assuming I could, which is not a slam dunk by a long shot, it would not change the fact that my husband is working harder (fewer TAs, bigger classes) for less spending power, in contrast to the Masters of the Universe who got us into this mess and who keep making more and more.

    Whether I work or not, it still doesn’t seem fair that my husband is effectively making less each year.

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