Related to the previous post on millionaire households, I’ll refer to an article that was pointed out to me in response. From NPR: Why the Haves Have So Much (source: http://www.npr.org/2011/10/29/141816778/why-the-haves-have-so-much?sc=fb&cc=fp). This article opens up a huge can of worms for America by discussing how we’ve become a “winner take all” society. Decades ago, starting a business and growing it to success and market dominance took decades, and even then there was rooms for others. The example cited in the NPR article is tax preparation: in the last century, there were millions (no number cited, so perhaps I exaggerate) of local accountants doing peoples’ taxes for them. Then larger corporations like H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt began leaving the major urban centers and branch out, opening up shops in smaller locales. Still though, there was room for mom and pop back-room businesses. However, enter the internet age, and Turbotax. People who once went to their local accounts could now effectively and efficiently do their taxes at home. One company put potentially thousands of smaller ones out of business, and put a huge crimp in the income of the rest.
I like the example I came up with even better: Netflix! Back in the 80’s, we’d go down to our local mini-mart, gas station or supermarket to rent a VHS tape for the night (and woe to those who didn’t get it back first thing the next morning and face an additional day’s charges!). There were also independent video stores to be found every few blocks. In the 90s and early 00s, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video popped up and expanded, but there was still enough market for the mini-marts to keep movies on their shelves and the independents afloat. However, Netflix came along and Hollywood Video is gone, Blockbuster is floundering (no discussion here of Netflix’s recent troubles, thanks), and unless it’s an adult-themed shop, independent video outlets no longer exist at all.
So here’s the dilemma: is the American way – starting at the bottom and working your way up to riches and success – no longer admired? Is it no longer valued? When starting from scratch – in your basement with an idea for a web-based business – and working your way to success can now mean putting thousands out of work in our internet-based society, does that make you an American success story, or worthy of vilification? How do we need to adapt to this new construct? Is it an argument for Socialism, or are we doomed to split into a permanent structure of haves and have-nots, except for the occasional person who has the good-idea fairy visit them and manages to claw their way out of the masses?
It’s a fascinating puzzle, and I’m not sure what it will look like when it’s finished. Heck, I’m not even sure we have all the pieces in the box, and that scares me. But we still have to try. It would make a heck of a thesis for an economics or sociology grad student.