Category: New Economy

New Year’s Day 2035 — A Memoir

I can’t believe it’s New Year’s Day, 2035.

My retirement party last week was enjoyable, although I didn’t get as much champagne as I would have liked. But my two kids were there, looking all grown up with their significant others. And I received lots of well wishes.

Which I’m going to need, since I’m not really sure what my plans are now. I was going to move to Virginia Beach, but I had to sell the waterfront property that was to be our retirement home there. A few years ago–2032 I think it was–the city condemned the lot since the seawater now covers it more than half the year. I took the city’s “fair market value” offer, which was a fraction of what I paid.Happy New Year

But living by the water was really my wife’s idea. After she passed away in 2030, there wasn’t much point of holding onto it anymore.

Honestly, I won’t be missing my job. Though I stayed with the same company for nearly 40 years, it was never what I’d hoped it would be. It was my fault, really. I never caught up with the single most important economic trend of the century: mobile information.

All those devices and apps feel just as foreign to me now as when they first appeared decades ago. When I graduated from college way back in 1990, I was completely unprepared for what was to come. I naively believed that a liberal arts degree would provide enough opportunities to allow some choices, some flexibility in where I’d go, who I’d be. Instead, the degree was a ball and chain. For my entire career, I felt I was barely keeping my head above water. Sure, the pay and benefits were sufficient to raise a family on, but I never felt that I was very useful.

I was a legacy of a dying economy. The new century flooded in and my generation was drowned by the flow.

My kids have managed to make it, no thanks to anything I was able to teach them. Resilience is key, and I just didn’t have enough. I was effectively retired from service a long time ago, so this “retirement” thing is just a formality.

Still not sure what I’ll do. Travel sounds good as long as my health holds out. Maybe I can finally take that trip to the South of France–the part that’s still above sea level anyway. It’s somewhere that my wife and I had dreamed of going years ago.


The Vanishing World of Mariano Vallejo

Mariano Vallejo

Mariano Vallejo, photo courtesy Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was born in 1808 in Monterey, California. By the time he died in 1890, California was a profoundly different place.

Only 38 years before Vallejo’s birth, Monterey had been founded on a barren piece of land by soldiers and Franciscan missionaries from Spain.

At the arrival of the Spaniards, the area around Monterey Bay was a wilderness of brush, pine and oak trees, and rocky landscape sparsely populated by rag-tag bands of mostly passive natives. It was territory virtually unchanged since the last Ice Age.

But change was just over the horizon.

Vallejo, a native-born Spanish-speaker known as a Californio, began life as a citizen of the Spanish Empire in what would be one of the last outposts of European imperialism in the New World. During Vallejo’s youth, Monterey–the capital of the colony–was a small town. Los Angeles was merely a dusty pueblo. San Francisco was an isolated, pest-ridden harbor.

As a young man, he became an officer in the army of Mexico after New Spain declared independence. By 1836, California had become an essentially autonomous region of less than 13,000 Mexican citizens and an unknown number of Indians spread across thousands of square miles. Life centered on the towns that had sprung up near the Franciscan missions and around the ranchos.

For his service, General Vallejo was given several land grants, including a rancho of about 50,000 acres in Sonoma County. His Rancho Petaluma was small compared to some ranchos of 300,000 acres. Land was cheap and nobody else seemed to want it.

Rancho life was patriarchal and pastoral. Labor was almost entirely manual. The only export products were cow hides and tallow. A Californio could ride for days and not see another person.

But all this changed. In 1846, a band of misfits claiming to represent American interests staged the “Bear Flag Rebellion” that claimed California as a territory of the United States. By 1848, a treaty with Mexico gave the land to the U.S. and, coincidentally, gold was discovered in the mountains. In 1850, California became the 31st state in the Union. Nineteen years later, the transcontinental railroad would open the door to a flow of migrants that continues to this day.

As a new state, and one abundant with gold that could fund American progress, settlers flooded in. The Californios quickly became a minority and their ranchos decimated by squatters and land speculators, or just sold to pay debts. When, at 55 years old, Vallejo was able to travel to Washington D.C. to meet Abraham Lincoln to advocate for land rights, he was little more than a curiosity.

Mission Solano

Mission Solano in Sonoma, California

This rapid pace of change–in the span of one man’s life–is remarkable, and rare. Up until this time, most societies had changed gradually over centuries. California, in contrast, went from an isolated feudal society to the Industrial Revolution in essentially one generation.

Living through such overwhelming change takes its toll. People lose their livelihoods almost overnight. Social conventions that had been working just fine become irrelevant or even counter-productive. That which gives citizens purpose vanishes or becomes culturally unacceptable. It can make outcasts out of those who once were kings.

We are living through a period of rapid change today. We are transitioning from an industrial economy to an information and service economy, even as we export most of our industries overseas. California, once again, is at the forefront of this change, but it’s being felt everywhere. Additionally, nations across the world are in an almost constant state of unrest. On any given day, it is difficult to know whether what you are doing now is going to feather your nest tomorrow or leave you in an empty hole. It is, to say the least, unsettling.

Vallejo was lucky. He lived a full life and is well remembered in California to this day. There’s even a town named after him. But I can’t help feeling he would have traded it all–the honorary town, the meeting of Lincoln–just to avoid going through the social upheaval and to remain living in the Californio society he grew up in.

Note: No consultation of Wikipedia was performed in the writing of this post. All information was sourced by me.

Random Scribbles: Making economic sense out of online news

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

In his recent article “Build the Future: Journalism’s deathwatch is over” Jacob Weisberg of discusses his vision of a sustainable future for digital news. This brief but informed review of the development of online news sites has, I think, some astute ideas on how this might work.

The end of the article has the most concrete points:

Slate is too dependent on advertising. So we’re trying to figure out how to get money from our readers, but without a paywall, because we like having a massive audience and fully participating in the digital conversation. Our latest experiment is a membership program called Slate Plus. Though we’re for-profit, it’s partly an NPR-style pitch: support the journalism you love. But it’s also like Amazon Prime: We’re thinking every day about what new benefits we can provide to our most loyal customers. The goal is to be thriving for another 18 years and beyond. The challenge is to think like a start-up while building an institution.

Last May, I shared my idea that news outlets should ask readers to pay to post comments, and interestingly enough was dismissed by many writers and editors. I still find the reaction odd, as if the ability to post comments for free is somehow a right that shall not be infringed.

In my view, when the ship (of journalism) is sinking, nothing should be sacred. So I’m interested in the ideas behind Weisberg’s Slate Plus, which could easily include the ability to post comments while locking out non-Slate Plus readers.

People who bash new ideas are not thinking “like a start-up.”

Random Scribbles: Have I been here before?

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

In the 1987 movie Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend’s character goes through many struggles to try to make it in show business. Throughout the movie, one of his relatives—his mom, an aunt, I don’t remember exactly—keeps telling him, “There’s always a job at the Post Office.” The gag at the end of the film is that the character ends up making promotional videos for the Post Office.

The point though is that once, there were jobs in this country that felt as if they would always be there. They were not glamorous, but they were solid and steady. Being a postal employee was one of them. Working for a newspaper was another, whether as a “copy boy,” a reporter, or an editor. And there was always the local factory.

Today, even these jobs are vanishing. The journalism business is in a state of disrepair, as I have discussed before. And the Post Office is shedding employees, closing locations, and ripping blue mail boxes out of the ground. A neighbor of mine has worked as a postman for decades, and his brother recently retired from the Postal Service. In a recent conversation, neither seemed optimistic about the future of the organization.

As I look ahead, and try to see what my children will do for a living, I worry. I just have no clear idea of what the future might bring. The solid, steady jobs are disappearing. New jobs are risky and untested. The so-called service industry—McDonalds, Walmart—is a joke. Personal assets that once were valued—loyalty, integrity, the ability to write and think critically—are now nearly worthless.

I’m sure we as a society have been here before—the Industrial Revolution, for example—and will be here again. I just don’t like being here now.

Random Scribbles: Smart phone the new cigarette

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

Until relatively recently, smoking was the preferred method of killing time. Having that cigarette kept your hands busy. It gave you a prop for your conversation. It provided that little bit of stimulation for your brain as you took a break from your work.

Now that cigarettes have gone out of favor in many places, I’ve noticed that a new item has emerged as the go-to gadget to fiddle with on your break: the cell phone. Or more precisely, the smart phone. Scrolling through your e-mails keeps your hands busy. It can be a prop for your conversation. It can provide that little bit of stimulation for your brain.

Guys on their smoke and cell phone break.

Guys on their smoke and smart phone break.

Of course, some folks smoke and check their phones. I guess for them, one addiction is not enough.