In go-go capitalism there is little loyalty between workers and their companies, there is little loyalty between companies and communities, and increasingly there is little loyalty between countries and companies. To be a winner in go-go capitalism it is imperative you look out for number one. Go-go capitalism runs fundamentally counter to the arguments offered by biologists, communitarians, and theologians that, “There is no choice between self and society. The two are reciprocal. One cannot properly exist without the other.”26
Go-go capitalism is driven at high speed by greed, human intelligence, adaptability, openness, and technological change. The technologies of information and communication have encouraged the reorganization of firms, industries and markets. “Today, information technologies allow industries to recognize instantaneously changes in demand, and to manage their inventories more efficiently and quickly. They are speeding the development of new products to market. Supercomputers, for example, have helped Detroit auto makers cut the development times of new cars by half or more. They’ve helped pharmaceutical companies cut down the development time for new anti-cancer drugs by several years.”27
The Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, described the situation for President Clinton in April of 2000 by noting, “While the various competing explanations for an economy that is in many respects without precedent in our annals, the most compelling appears to be the extraordinary surge in technological innovation that developed through the latter decades of the last century.”28
Chairman Greenspan argued that the movement towards increasing use of ICTs, and other technologies, in the 1980s paid dividends in the 1990s by making businesses leaner and more flexible. In this view, more accurate and up-to-date knowledge about market conditions means fewer workers are needed to produce and deliver more goods and services, and this has enabled businesses and their employees to work smarter and faster than they were able to in the past. Productivity rates have shot up since the 1990s because new technologies have allowed fewer workers to produce more goods and services.
Go-go capitalism is not just an American phenomenon. For better and worse, like rock n’roll, fast food hamburger joints, latte coffee shops, and foot and mouth disease these trends flow both ways across the Atlantic, and indeed around the world. Through globalization the economic and social trends shaping Fairfax County and the rest of America are also influencing other countries.
According to the president of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), go-go capitalism encourages citizens “to take on more individual responsibility for shaping their own destiny. They have the opportunity to become more involved in their own decision-making that impinges on their own economic and social environment. Governments must ensure that their own citizens are well-equipped to assume these new responsibilities. But the people they govern, too, have to become active entrepreneurs and innovators. That means breaking down barriers in the mind, as well as barriers to trade, competition and innovation.”29
As the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, noted recently, “Reforms in Britain and Europe are built on the new realities of the global economy – opened not sheltered economies. International not national capital markets, global not local competition.”30
Whether you realize it or not your community is most likely already struggling to deal with the changes, opportunities, and problems of go-go capitalism. It is also important to point out that the “task of breaking down barriers in the mind” is increasingly falling on the shoulders of schools. On both sides of the Atlantic, schools are being asked to prepare all children for life in “global competition.” The stakes have been raised, but one cannot help but wonder if most people understand this fact.
Why does go-go capitalism matter to those of us who work with children?
The former American Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote in 2001, “As wonderous as the new economy is, we are also losing parts of our lives to it – aspects of our family lives, our friendships, our communities, ourselves.”31The wonders of go-go capitalism are to be found in the buying binge of the past couple of decades. Since the 1980s the American consumer has bought more and varied goods and services than any generation in history.
At the beginning of the 21st century the ambition behind the dream of a small suburban home with a family car and an annual vacation has expanded considerably. Houses have doubled in size in less than 50 years, and more people than ever before have a second home, multiple vehicles, watercrafts and other motorized machinery. The accoutrements of the modern home now includes several television sets, DVD players, stereo equipment, a personal computer or two updated every couple of years, and numerous other electronic goods and gadgetry. Designer clothes are now seen as mandatory not only for adults, but also for teenagers and even little children.32
For a vast swath of the middle-class much of this consumption has been facilitated by easy credit. Despite an expanding economy over the past two decades the United States “borrowed approximately $5 trillion from the savers of the world, especially the Japanese, to finance their consumption and their investment. In the mid-1980s the United States went from its post-World War I position as the world’s largest creditor nation to become its larger debtor.”33 To pay for all this American families have been working harder and harder.
Consequently, daycare providers, educators and schools are being required not only to educate children to a higher standard, but to also pick up the slack in the raising of children. As more and more of us focus almost exclusively on personal success and opportunity children are seen as competing “with ‘other’ goods and services that limited purchasing power can provide.”34 For some in Fairfax County children are seen as simply another life choice – having children is no different than buying a consumer good.
This attitude was captured when the Harvard Business Review ran an article about ‘nonparent’high-tech workers in one of the County’s net-based businesses feeling unfairly treated because parents were given days off to attend their children’s events and activities. “The thing that gets me,” Jana told her boss, “is that somehow all the family stuff is deemed more important – the soccer games, the school plays, the graduations. Well, I have important things going on in my life, too. They just don’t involve children.”35 In the parking lot where Jana worked a bumper sticker proudly declared, “Child-free (not childless)…and loving every minute of it.”36
According to The Washington Post, “The changes in the corporate world have taken place against the backdrop of a larger cultural war: A growing segment of the population calling itself ‘child free,’or childless by choice, has taken on child-doting parents. The child-free forces argue that society needs to stop handing out perks to people simply because they’re parents…The child-free’s list of resentments is long: tax benefits for parents, health insurance coverage for infertility treatments, family-discount packages at resorts, co-workers who skip out of the office early to catch soccer games, even those signs reserving prime parking spots for expectant mothers or parents with young children.”37
These people are seeking a “child-neutral” society. In Fairfax County this attitude plays out in varied ways. One way is that it is now considered rude to take young children to many of the restaurants in the area, and another way is that “parents with young children” are no longer called on at airport gates to board the plane first. If you’re old, handicapped or a pregnant woman and want a seat on a bus or a metro train you can forget it. It’s every man, pregnant woman and baby for themselves. Such coarsening of attitudes towards children, no doubt, will make for even coarser and more selfish people in the future.
If parenting is seen as little more than an economic choice among many offered up by go-go capitalism then it becomes harder for parents to regard their children as their first and most important responsibility. As men and women find that greater benefits derive from holding a job, family life will diminish in relative importance to the world of work, and not surprisingly people will invest less in their families than in their individual lives and careers.
In the United States homes with children have been on the decline since the 1970s. In 1960 the percentage of married people with children at home was 45 percent and by 2000 it had fallen to 23.5 percent. Added to the decline in married couples with children at home has been an increase in the percentage of people living alone from 17.5 percent in 1970 to 25.8 percent in 2000. In short, the typical household is empty of children.38
Those people who do decide to have children are finding themselves working harder and longer hours while they are increasingly subcontracting out more of what were once family responsibilities. In Fairfax County the economic changes of the past two decades has undoubtedly brought many benefits including thousands of new jobs, but for many it has also seen life become increasingly synonymous with work.
In 1999 President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers captured the trend when they observed, “The nation’s labor market is performing at record levels: the number of workers employed is at an all-time high, the unemployment rate is at a 30-year low, and real (inflation-adjusted) wages are increasing after years of stagnation.”39 Americans now “put in more hours on the job than their counterparts in other industrialized nations. Americans work almost two weeks a year more than the Japanese and 14 weeks more than the Norwegians.”40