Hipsters on Food Stamps and the Economy…

Ok.

Hipsters have been the object of pretty much everyone’s disdain for about 10 years now, and I think I’m getting kind of sick of it. Nevermind the fact that most of the people doing the majority of the hipster hate are hipsters themselves. Nevermind that nobody has much of a solid idea what exactly a hipster is, or who these people are who are hipsters.

All of the above is, in fact, beside the point, because what I’d like to address today is a post about hipsters and food stamps. Now, keeping in mind the broader context of more than a decade of hipster hate, I’d like you to consider the basic theme of this post. Hipsters pay for Whole Foods Aspirational Lifestyle with Food Stamps, because of some nebulous thing wrong with our society as a whole. There is no small amount of blame laid at the feet of the hipsters themselves, here–which may or may not be justified.

However, before we go down that path, I’d like to direct everyone’s attention to the following chart:

Or, if you like, you could also look at this one:

You see, as tempting as it is to blame narcissism, or hipsters, or whatever for the basic problem of college-educated people having trouble finding jobs, the real problem remains that of supply and demand. By all measures, productivity is flying through the roof, and GDP–though it isn’t growing nearly as quickly as anyone would like–is still growing. Corporate profits remain quite high, and everyone’s pretty clear that the top 1% of income earners in this country are doing quite well. Meanwhile, wages haven’t really increased since the 1980s.

How could this be?

The problem, as I see it, isn’t necessarily that corporations and wealthy people are any more greedy than they were in the 60s or 70s. It’s that the value of labor has been on a steady decline, working its way towards an asymptotic approach to zero. The last two decades have been filled with stories of labor either being outsourced to places where poverty is so desperate that earnings as low as $2 a day represent a doubling of the standard of living, or being replaced entirely by automation. Increasingly, if you have money and want to put it to work to earn more for yourself, it makes much more sense to buy a cool robot or a factory in China than it does to hire people.

This basic fact of our present economy is showing up nearly everywhere, and is serving to simultaneously depress wages in every sector of the economy while inflating the credentials required to compete. I don’t blame a young person for pursuing a college degree, even in a supposedly “useless” field such as Music or English, because a college degree is considered to be the bare minimum to get even the most basic entry level work. And when those with college degrees end up on food stamps, it’s likely because they’re getting out-competed by folks applying for the same entry level work but with Master’s degrees or PhD’s.

At this moment in history, we’re dealing with a lot of huge philosophical questions (see Climate Change, for example), but one of the more basic ones is what we plan to do with this situation. What exactly are we going to do with all these laborers who are essentially made redundant by the advancing technology? What are we going to do about all those industries whose products we value–like music, say–but whose ability to make money on said products has effectively vanished due to advancing technology? (If you think, by the way, that services such as Spotify have done anything to mitigate the disaster that the internet has wrought for musicians, record labels, and so on, you are sadly deluded. If you think, additionally, that other entertainment industries like video games, TV, and movies are immune to what happened to music and journalism, think again.)

So here’s the thing about hipsters on food stamps: it’s not their fault. It’s the economy, stupid. As it is with just about every question worth asking.

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