Aaron Clarey is one of the more entertaining characters out there. I originally learned about him through the financial news website Zero Hedge. He was one of the fringe economists who predicted that the housing bubble would burst. Interestingly, his stance was informed both by analyzing economic fundamentals as well as dealing with underwriting as a commercial banker. As we know now, Aaron Clarey was among those who were right. Too bad he doesn’t have a teaching gig at a respectable university, because that would have propelled him into the mainstream.
In some ways, Aaron Clarey’s “Enjoy the Decline – Accepting and Living with the Death of the United States” is the logical consequence of the housing crisis, and every other bubble that came before it, as well as every future bubble. In a nutshell, a big part why the economic reality for a lot of young people is so dire is due to the ‘boomers’ spending way above their means, individually as well as on a societal level. The boomers are active at the voting booth, and there are a lot of them, so corrupt politicians pander to them, fucking over all subsequent generations. You may now wonder how you can arrange yourself with the shitty hand your parents’ generation has dealt you. Aaron Clarey has a few radical ideas.
If you have read his book “Bachelor Pad Economics”, quite a bit of his advice will seem familiar. In fact, I have the impression that a substantial part of “Enjoy the Decline” was reused and expanded upon in “Bachelor Pad Economics”, which Aaron Clarey released less than a year later. Anyway, Aaron Clarey points out that you’re essentially fucked. Housing is out of reach, joining the workforce requires engaging in a game of inflationary credentialism and dealing with abusive bosses, and if you do get ahead in life, then the socialist government of the United States takes a huge chunk of your income.
Aaron Clarey does not just rant. He also provides you with some economic analysis. It is largely done in very broad strokes, and some of it is a bit too coarse for my liking, such as his simplistic claim that GDP per capita is what the average employee earns, ignoring the role of companies, and also carelessly glossing over the important difference between the median and the average. Instead, GDP per capita is simply the result of dividing total GDP by the number of inhabitants of a country. I also wasn’t too pleased with his simplistic discussion of economic growth. Obviously, in mature economies the potential for growth is a lot less. Also, there are clear limits to economic growth because we live on a finite planet. In addition, focusing on mere numbers easily ignore what economists call “hedonics”. Today we carry supercomputers in our pockets and have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. Thus, I don’t necessarily share his pessimism.
Overall, the tone of the book is a tad too defeatist for my liking. He even tells people how to leech off the government. I chuckled when he wrote that every US citizen is entitled to five years of welfare in his lifetime, and that you therefore should make sure to dip into that pot. I can sympathize with his cynicism, but the problem, particularly for men, is that a decent job can provide you with a sense of purpose. Throwing that away does not seem wise. In fact, the issue of jobs is one where I am most critical of him. He condemns seemingly all jobs. Sure, there are a lot of dickhead bosses out there, but if you’re reasonably specialized, you should be fine. Your work may even be pleasant.
I’d say, the best approach to this book is to read through it, take what’s useful, and discard the rest. In particular his discussion of an “SHTF” scenario seemed far-fetched. I’m all for “prepping” and keeping enough food at home for around two weeks. However, if we get to the point where civil order completely breaks down, then packing all your belongings into your car and heading towards the countryside won’t be so great. I’d rather hunker down instead of turning myself into a target for highway robbers. So, don’t get too fanatical when reading “Enjoy the Decline”. If something seems a bit too bizarre for you, it probably is.
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