January 21, 2018
by Steve Stofka
I like the 21st century. I get a lot of free stuff. Opinions, news and information, and directions to anywhere on the planet. Free apps and games for my phone. Free porno and free sermons.
I get so much free stuff that I can afford to pay for fancy coffee and smart phones, television and internet access. I can now afford a personal guru to align my chakras. My personal assistant, Alexa, listens to me and answers my questions.
Goodbye and good riddance to the 20th century with its clunky records, cassettes and DVDs. I say “Alexa, play me blankety-blank song,” and millions of tiny electrons do my bidding, and out comes my song!
My real personal income has doubled since 1973 (Average per capita income ) so I got all this extra free money. I’m getting paid more at work than 45 years ago. My total compensation has gone up 44% (Total real compensation per employee ). My employer provided benefits have doubled (Real employee benefits ). My employer kicks in more free money into my retirement program, and into my health care insurance. That’s real dollars, after inflation.
I got so much extra free money coming in that I’m living like royalty. My income has gone up 100% in 45 years, but my spending has increased 137% because I’m a first class 21st century person that banks want to loan money to.
Since 2000, I eat out a lot more – like 75% more (Real restaurant sales ). I deserve it cause I’m making all this extra money and I’m too busy to cook. In 2000, I was spending $11.50 a day for shelter but I needed more personal room and modern conveniences. Now I got more room but I’m spending $16 a day.
Living first class means that I’m saving a lot less of my free extra money. 45 years ago, I was saving 12% of my income. Now it’s 3%. But there’s an easy fix to that. More free stuff!
This past summer, my wife and I joined the many thousands of solar eclipse watchers who visited western Nebraska, where the totality and length of the eclipse was near its peak. At hotels, shops and restaurants we were greeted with a cordiality that is typical of Nebraskans. They worked extra hours to accommodate the influx of visitors. At one restaurant, our waitress remarked that the extra business would make up for the slack earlier in the year. The reason? Not the food and service, which were both excellent. The locals weren’t eating out as much. And why was that?
Last week, I wrote about the seven-year downturn in commodity prices that has affected many rural communities. Although agriculture contributes about 6% to GDP (USDA) the changing fortunes of the people who produce our food gets little attention in urban areas.
A few hundred miles away, Denver is booming. Gentrification and rising housing costs have stressed the pocketbooks of some families. In Nebraska, it is declining prices that have caused stress fractures in the community (Denver Post ). Land values declined 4% in 2015, and another 9% in 2016 (U. of Nebraska-Lincoln report).
Despite a strong export market for corn, soybeans and other agricultural products, Iowa has had falling land prices for three years. In a recent survey, 40% of responding Iowa farmers reported lower sales in 2017. However, there was a slight uptick in land values this past year and the hope is that the Iowa agricultural community may be turning a corner.
As land values decline, banks lower lending limits, refinancing terms become more strict. Families sit at the kitchen table and try to pay higher bills with less money. Property taxes decline so that there is less money for schools and other public infrastructure. Seeing the stress that their parents face, younger folks are attracted to urban areas where there is more economic opportunity. Farms that have been in the family for several generations get sold to large farm management companies.
The governors of western states must understand that they serve all the people of their state. As people concentrate in the urban centers, they demand more resources from the state. Those in rural areas feel as though they are being left out. They will form elective coalitions within state legislatures to offset the growing urban power.
To those in the dense population centers of the coastal states, the shifting political and economic alliances in the fly-over states might earn a shrug. Our federalist system of voting was a grand bargain to offset the dominance of high population states. The 2016 election was a good lesson in the power of electoral federalism. State and federal politicians must build a bridge that crosses the divide between the fortunes of those in urban and rural areas.