Our Social Depression

This erosion of opportunities to complete life’s stages and core dramas is rarely recognized, much less addressed.

The consequences of economic stagnation are not limited to finance: stagnation is causing a social depression. We can best understand this social depression by examining how the natural stages of human life are being disrupted.

Confucian thought views life as a developmental process with seven stages, each roughly corresponding to a decade: childhood, young adulthood (16-30), age of independence (30-39), age of mental independence (40-49), age of spiritual maturity (50-59), age of acceptance (60-69), and age of unification (70 – end of life).

Each stage has various tasks, goals and duties, which establish the foundation for the next stage.

I see each stage as centered on a core human drama: for the teenager, establishing an identity and life that is independent of parents; for the young adult, finding a mate and establishing a career; for the middle-aged, navigating the challenges of raising children and establishing some measure of financial security; for those in late middle-age, helping offspring reach independent adulthood and caring for aging parents; early old age, seeking fulfillment now that life’s primary duties have been accomplished and managing one’s health; and old age, the passage of accepting mortality and the loss of vitality.

The End of Secure Work and the diminishing returns of financialization are disrupting these core human dramas and frustrating those who are unable to proceed to the next stage of life:

1. Teenagers are being pressured to focus their lives on achieving a conventional financial success (see “Training for Discontent” in From Left Field) that is becoming harder to achieve.

2. Young adults without secure full-time careers cannot afford marriage or children, so they extend the self-absorption of late adolescence into middle age.

3. The middle-aged are finding financial security elusive or out of reach as they struggle to fund their young adult children, aging parents and their own retirement.

4. Increasing longevity is pressuring the late-middle-aged’s stage of fulfillment, as elderly parents may require care even as their children reach their own retirement (65-70).

The financial pressures generated by the demise of financialization and the End of Secure Work are not just disrupting each stage; they are disrupting essential financial balances between the young, the middle-aged and the old.

The elderly, protected by generous social welfare benefits paid by current taxpayers, also benefit from the soaring value of assets such as real estate and stocks. Meanwhile, financialization’s asset bubbles have pushed housing beyond the reach of most young people.

Downsizing, lay-offs, low-paying replacement work and poor decisions to buy houses near the peak of the prior bubble have left many of the middle-aged with high fixed costs and a stagnant or increasingly insecure income.

The stresses of trying to make enough money to afford what was once assumed to be a birthright–a “middle class” lifestyle–is taking a heavy toll on the mental and physical health of the middle-aged, leaving many of them too tired for any fulfilling activities and easy prey for destructive self-medication.

This erosion of opportunities to complete life’s stages and core dramas is rarely recognized, much less addressed. We are constantly bombarded with messages to innovate, keep up, be fulfilled, etc.–essentially impossible demands for those with multiple generational and/or business duties.

When I talk about the Mobile Creative class, I’m not talking about a finance-centric definition of success or a path to join the top 5% in Corporate America and the government. The herd is chasing those dwindling slots, too, guaranteeing frustration and failure for the 95% who won’t secure one of those slots. That is the essence of our social depression.

What we’re discussing is a way of living that places a premium on independent thinking, maintaining very low fixed costs, establishing a healthy honesty with oneself and one’s associates and customers, the ability to make realistic assessments of oneself, one’s successes, failures and errors, and a focus on challenges, opportunities, risks, adaptability, flexibility and experimentation, all with a goal of building one’s own human, social and physical capital–the foundations not just of well-being but of any meaningful measure of wealth.


How to forge a career in a depressed economy:
Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy
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  • purrsun

    “The elderly, protected by generous social welfare benefits paid by current taxpayers, also benefit from the soaring value of assets such as real estate and stocks.”

    Seems you’ve glossed over this stage just a bit. Senior illnesses are not cured, hardly even addressed, just medicated w/ constantly increasing costs. Savings earn near 0% interest. Thus, no $$ to address personal home repair issues, much less real estate. Stocks . . . most of us aren’t inclined to gamble w/ pocket change. And generous social welfare benefits?? You mean the kind where you can still qualify at local food bank?

    Have 4 middle-aged kids and mom in 80s. So, yeah, we’re all getting screwed. Thinking ’bout local corn cob recycling operation for those outta tp.

  • human

    Was going to make the observation that you have made. Excellent. Would also like to point out that people are _not_ living longer. More are living to an older age, yes. Although life expectancy in the US is actually declining due to lack of affordable, effective health care.

  • MAY 22, 2015 Your Government-Approved Diet May Kill You

    “A Health Philosophy and Methodology Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavour consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving for?” — F. A. Hayek

    https://mises.org/library/your-government-approved-diet-may-kill-you