“Our world is flat, and it wants fulfillment.” So says the preternaturally perceptive author of Up In The Valley, and he is right. We have accidentally stepped through the looking-glass into a world where the value of labor has become almost zero. I’m not just talking about the fact that it’s no longer possible to live a middle-class dream by sacrificing your life to the River Rouge or Lordstown plants; I’m referring to all of the “professions” as well. The average urgent-care physician earns $211,000 a year, which sounds outstanding. Except you have all those loans to repay, and you repay them with post-tax money, so in reality you bring home seven grand a month. A fortune by the standards of the temp laborers and contract hires endlessly peregrinating between WeWorks, but it won’t buy you a decent lifestyle on the coasts.
Maybe not even in Ohio. This is the house in which Bark and I lived for part of our childhoods. My father ran a food brokerage. My mother didn’t work. We had new cars every two years plus an MG in the garage. Dad was just starting to buy Armani suits. Could our imaginary urgent-care doctor buy this house and send two kids to Catholic school, the way my father did? Quickly running the numbers… probably not. Now, if our doctor was married to another doctor, it would be possible. If you had $422k of income a year, you could repay your loans, cover the $2,900 mortgage and the $860 property tax, pay $44k of tuition a year for Columbus Academy, maybe lease a couple of Lexus SUVs, and pray every night that neither one of you stumbles for even a moment. You could work flat-out and save almost nothing so you could live in an Ohio suburb, in a house that, as I recall, contained and probably still supports a solid half-ton’s worth of carpenter-ant biomass at any given time.
This kind of permanently panicky situation, uncomfortable though it might seem, is an unattainable dream for most of us. The Atlantic just published a pretty decent piece by a 57-year-old writer-turned-Amazon-driver. One day he woke up and poof! he’d fallen out of the economy. His wife is a lawyer, but they are still struggling.
It could be worse. You could find human feces outside your front door every twelve days or so. How much would you pay to live in that situation? Don’t bother to guess, I’ll tell you the answer: More than you can afford, pal.