(The following is an expansion of post from PretendingNotToPanic.com.)
The middle class was born about 650 yeas ago. It wasn’t by governmental decree, though there were probably some declarations declared. It wasn’t by some great grass-roots organization, though there was probably some organization. At its core was the simple sentiment, “We’re not going to take it, anymore.” And so economies, governments, and personal lifestyles change. And it may be happening, again.
The Bubonic Plague did it. The Bubonic Plague killed approximately 1/3 of the population of Europe. That’s worse than today’s pandemic, but not as severe as the epidemic that killed so many in the Americas a few hundred years later.
By losing so much of the population, peasants became in low supply but in high demand because they were the ones that supplied the essential services of things like food. Europe’s institutions either adapted to power shifting to the peasants, or the institutions simply faded. Monarchies continue, but there are few of them. Democracies had been talked about, but noting much happened until old power structures weakened. People’s perspectives changed. The world changed.
Well, for the people who survived that epidemic, their lifestyles could improve dramatically. The basic concept of personal finance became more personal because finances were finally involved. Lords and ladies weren’t as important as income and expense, assets and liabilities, taxes and inheritances. Families could build wealth. It didn’t work for everyone, but for those it worked for, it worked well enough to propagate around the planet and through the years.
Kind of a big thing. (understatement)
We’re going through a pandemic, not just an epidemic. Prior to the pandemic worker satisfaction was declining. Since about the early 80s there was a disconnect between a worker’s productivity and their income. Wealth began to accumulate in corporations, financial institutions, and the people who controlled them. Meanwhile, population is up, global problems intensified, but a greater percentage of the money flow flowed out of the economy and into havens. You may have noticed.
Prior to the pandemic worker satisfaction was declining to the extent that, while about half of the employees are at least somewhat satisfied with their jobs, many do not see them as careers, and many considered changing jobs. Even with ~50% satisfaction, only ~20% were enthused with their worklife. The trend was noticeable enough that the term The Great Resignation was born.
Then came the epidemic which we turned into a pandemic. If the crisis had been handled swiftly, the pandemic would’ve had less of a chance to mutate into worse strains. Because the pandemic has been going on for not just months but years, many habits and institutions have been challenged. The term ‘essential worker’ has become more than a label. Everyone from doctors and nurses to grocery clerks and delivery drivers are now seen as essential, and seen as deserving of appropriate compensation.
The peasants were essential and finally found an opportunity to change their lives.
Today’s workforce may be going through a similar transition.
Since the pandemic, job dissatisfaction has become less of a reason to gripe and more of a reason to act. Recent studies show over 40% of the working population is dissatisfied enough that they are considering quitting for another job or retirement. Few political movements generate that sort of size without great effort. This is an effort that is happening with a few slogans ($15/hour), organizations, government initiatives, or really not much more than enough people saying “We’re not going to take it, anymore.”
There are many enabling technologies, particularly the internet. Why show up at an office when all of the work is done online? Some places rely on teams and a physical presence, but enough do not, so why spend time and money to commute?
Enough businesses are adapting by increasing benefits because they realize that may be necessary to stay in business. It shouldn’t be a radical idea that treating your workers well does good things for your business, but some do not see the trend that’s been moving towards personal empowerment since the start of the middle class.
I am encouraged by such peaceful, legal, and quiet movements.
Governments may have subsidized renewable energy and electric vehicles, but it has been individuals deciding to make the choice to buy an electric car and install solar systems at home that enabled the undermining (an ironic choice of words) the fossil fuel industry.
Our situation is different from the Middle Ages. They had too few people but a lot of work to do. We have overpopulation and increasing automation. They didn’t know what caused the deaths. We do. They couldn’t coordinate their efforts as well as we can. And the pace of change back then meant change happened over decades, while today social changes can happen with a tweet.
Regardless of those and other differences, the fundamental change affects anyone with a personal finance plan that is based on old assumptions. Unfortunately, those people who know we need new economic models also know that no one knows that those models will be.
Will we have Universal Basic Income? Universal health care, and family care? Will mega-corporations be challenged as if they are modern-day sects and empires? While we work out these issues will the pandemic and the climate mean that nothing will be certain for decades? If nothing is certain, how does a personal plan?
Nothing has been certain for – ever. But, back then uncertainty happened over generations instead like the dramatic shift we are witnessing in the last two years.
By the time we get past this pandemic (optimism) electric cars will be much more common, there will be less need to connect to a grid for electricity and telecommunications. Work and school from home coupled with delivery services means urbanization may peak and rural areas can gain back population. Fundamental aspects of everyday life are being redefined.
When I get overwhelmed with trying to understand such change and how to manage it I remind myself of my simple rules and philosophy of frugality. (Dream. Invest. Live.)
Know and understand my values.
Spend less than I make.
Invest the rest.
Live my own life.
Those may not be grand schemes involving higher math and intricate spreadsheets, but my values and the way I handle my are in my control. There are still assumptions inherent in this approach. Spend less than I make is a goal, but if income is basically zero, then it becomes dangerous to spend less than what is required for the essentials. Advice makes more sense ‘As Long As You Can Pay Your Bills’ (#ALAYCPYB), or the more personal version ‘As Long As I Can Pay My Bills’ (#ALAICPMB).
The pandemic continues. Vaccines are making progress. So is masking and social distancing. But enough forces are actively keeping the graph from leveling off. Every day is another day removed from the old normal. Every day is another day of millions of people trying to find a new way to live. I’m discouraged by the pandemic’s trend. I am encouraged by the survivors’ trend. I wonder what this new world will look like. It may be that we’ll have to wait for the historians to tell us the full tale, but in the meantime I’ll do what I can – and hopefully my own eventual resignation when I re-retire.