Capital in the Twenty-First Century

This page written circa 19 June 2023.

I remember visiting the government social security office once I finished my undergraduate degree. That must have been around December 1978. I was searching for a job as well as applying for a postgrad scholarship. They redirected me to Modern Magazines, and that was a great place... although that is not important to this story. This place, whatever it was called then, was in King Street, Newtown, a short walk from the university. I walked in, oriented myself, spoke at once to a nice lady, and the whole transaction, including dates for unemployment benefits that I would never claim, and the contact at Modern Magazines, took only a few minutes.

I don't think I have thought of that day in the social security office for many years. The memory was prompted by my driving down to the "Work and Income" office in East Hamilton, one of three in town, with my son. We were greeted by a security guard. There were two more guards inside. The doors have to be opened by the inside guards. Perhaps another ten people worked there. All the ones I could see were serving clients. It turned out that my son needed to make an appointment, and the next available was three weeks away. In the mean time, he needed to fill out forms available only online. Desperate people on benefits close to going postal might get quicker service, I suppose. No wonder they need three burly guards.

This is one more visible instance of the global squeeze. Professor Piketty's equation is surely at work. Universities lower their standards and shed staff, social security have three week lists and need unsocial security themselves. If modern university students were not so apathetic they might be rioting and universities would need security squads.

This leads to a topic that has come up a lot recently. How will this squeeze end? Most pundits anticipate some societal phase change, a serious crunch, circa 2030. Will it be a major asset crash, plague, war, or something new, perhaps climate-induced collapse or cessation of international trade? Gaia tried plague yet again in 2020 without so much impact. The Ukraine war is as bad as armed conflict has been for almost 80 years, and this will be contained provided NATO keeps Ukraine supplied and Putin's generals refuse to go nuclear. Asset crash is my favourite of the potential disasters. Will it be in real estate or the stock market? My money is on the markets first.