You've likely heard the saying that "all politics is local," a phrase that implies that no matter how lofty the office it has a local influence and is influenced by all localities. A few articles I've read lately have reminded me that it's not only politics that's local. So are our perceptions of the world, and of course those perceptions influence our politics.
The first two articles I read highlighted the fact that while the national unemployment rate fell to 9.4% the local unemployment rate actually rose to 10.2%. In other words the job situation worsened while the rest of the country's, on average, improved. Now one region lagging others is nothing new, but I think what makes this current recession so tough for most people is that they can't chase jobs to the region where jobs are available. I think there are two reasons for that; first, many of the jobs that have been lost around here are manufacturing jobs, and I don't know if you noticed but there aren't any manufacturing jobs being created anywhere in the US. If workers want to chase those jobs they'll have to emigrate to Central America, Asia, etc. and learn to live a very different life. The second reason is that back in "the day" if you lost a job in Winston-Salem and found one in Louisville you'd sell your house, or at least rent it out, and then move yourself and your family to Louisville. Unfortunately these days if you find that job in Louisville (a miracle in and of itself) then you'll be greatly challenged to even rent your house which means you have a terrific disincentive to moving for that job. Anecdotally I know of three families where the fathers have found jobs in other cities and are spending the work week away from their families in order to work. Now part of the reason is that they don't want to disrupt their kids' lives since they're in high school, but a big part of it is because they're trapped in their houses.
The other story I read that really kind of hit home was this opinion piece by Charlie Stross that highlighted many reasons to be cheerful about the developments of the past decade (2000-2010). He's right that there are a lot of good trends out there, but this is why many of us here in BBQ-land may not exactly be feeling the love:
In other news of improvements, both China and India underwent annual economic growth averaging around 10% per year throughout the decade. The sheer scale of it is mind-numbing; it's as if the entire population of the USA and the EU combined had gone from third-world poverty to first-world standards of living. (There are still a lot of dirt-poor peasants left behind in villages, and a lot of economic — never mind political — problems with both India and China's developed urban sectors, but overall, life is vastly better today than it was a decade ago for around a billion people.)
The number of people living in poverty and with unsafe water supplies world-wide today is about the same as it was in 1970. Only difference is, there were 3 billion of us back then and today we're nearer to 7 billion. Upshot: the proportion of us humans on this planet who are living in third world poverty (unable to afford enough food, water, clothing and shelter) has actually been halved…
I'm sorry to note that most of the good stuff didn't happen to those of us in the developed world — but the human world is indisputably in better shape overall in 2010 than it was in 2000. And what makes my neighbour happier without damaging me makes my world a better place.
That last sentence from Mr. Stross is not a sentiment shared by many people, especially when they're out of work and sitting in a home won't be theirs after the bank takes it. Here in the U.S. we don't feel that the world is a better place because we've been fighting various "wars" on terrorism, drugs, poverty, etc. and yet the vast majority of us have not seen an improvement in our daily condition and we're in the midst of the worst economic environment seen in the lifetimes of most of us or our parents.
Simply put I think if you asked the average man on the street he'd be happy to learn that his brothers in the Third World are generally doing better these days, but if he was being honest he'd tell you that he'd be much happier if the neighbors you were talking about were the ones on his street. Woe be to the politician who forgets that.