What Could Possibly Go Right?

What Could Possibly Go Right?: Episode 81 Helaine Olen

May 31, 2022

Show Notes

Helaine Olen is an award-winning opinion writer for the Washington Post Opinion section. An expert on money and society with a deep understanding of public policy, she writes, speaks and consults on issues including Social Security, retirement, healthcare, student loans and women’s financial issues. Helaine has appeared on The Daily Show, Frontline, C-Span, the BBC, MSNBC, All Things Considered, Marketplace and more to share her forward-thinking commentary on politics, economics and consumer and regulatory issues.

Author of the bestselling book “Pound Foolish: Exposing The Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry” and co-author of “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to be So Complicated,” Helaine’s writing has also been published in many publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, Inc. and more.

She addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:

  • The “Great Resignation” and Americans’ changing relationship with work
  • The need to insist on dignity in our working lives
  • The call “to not confuse your needs, with corporate needs or government needs”
  • The benefits of building better social safety nets and increased government support

Connect with Helaine Olen

Website: http://helaineolen.com

Twitter: twitter.com/helaineolen


 Vicki Robin

Hey, Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project of the Post Carbon Institute. We interview people that we call cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good; and also social artists, people who feel deeply and act with courage in the face of uncertainty, as we all work to protect what we love and change what we can and learn as we go. Our awakened hearts are absolutely necessary partners to our critical thinking minds.

This would go well for our guest today, Helaine Olen. Helaine is a columnist for The Washington Post’s opinion section. She is the author of Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, and co-author of The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to be Complicated. She has been featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and took part in Frontline’s Emmy award-winning The Retirement Gamble. Her award-winning work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, the Nation, AARP and Slate. She serves on the advisory board of the economic hardship reporting project. And now, here is Helene.

Welcome Helaine to What Could Possibly Go Right? I think you understand the game we are playing here is not analysis of what went wrong or prescriptions of what we should do to make things right, or even some Panglossian idea of the best of all possible worlds is just around the corner. We’re asking you, as a long-time keen observer of this society, to tell us what green shoots of possibility you see growing through the cracks in the concrete as the old normal breaks Our listeners are informed, perhaps over informed in terms of what’s coming apart, but they want to help something better come together.

So you and I’ve both written books about simple, sane sound financial practices. For you, it was advice that could be put on an index card. We both used our pens to defrock the swindles and bamboozles of the financial industry. So I’m sort of locating you in that domain. I wonder if there is something possibly going right, in the personal finance world? For example, does the Great Resignation reflect a sense that the contract is broken between workers and employers? And if so, is there a new contract being written, and where is it being written? Or is the new Amazon union evidence of a shift in the wind? Is some other story emerging for younger people? Do co-ops and co-housing and Buy Nothing and sharing groups auger anything?

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I’m just sort of laying out some of the elements on the table so that we can finger paint with it. Our basic question is, Helaine, in the midst of all this seems to be coming apart, what could possibly go right?

Helaine Olen

Oh, wow. Okay, I am totally fascinated by the Great Resignation. One of the things I thought about a lot, and I should say, I almost proposed a book on the topic at one point – but then it was 2008 and the economy went into a tailspin in a completely different direction – was the American relationship with work.

The pandemic really severed something in the American relationship with work. I think this was a really good thing to have severed, right? Americans think of work is almost a form of religion. It’s not simply a nation of workaholics. It’s a nation of people who identify with their jobs in a way that other nations find utterly bizarre and weird. Like, if you’re in Europe, you don’t ask people what they do. It just never really comes up. Here, of course, it’s the opposite. It’s “Hi, I’m Helaine. I’m a journalist, right? It’s like, Hi, I’m Jewish, right? Like that was very weird.

But we don’t actually have any weirdness with that with work at all. We identify with our work in a way that’s almost akin to religion. This is something that got massively exploited over the past several decades. There is a book that I just love that was actually written by an Australian, and I mean, the other nations have issues with this, too – I don’t want to be a Pollyanna – but not to the same degree called Better Than Sex and I’m forgetting the exact title but it was subtitled something like how work became the most important thing in our lives ever. That’s not it, but it was something along those lines. But it’s true.

People became utterly obsessed with work. Employers took massive advantage of this. People were putting in hours upon hours on the job. In the United States, we not only don’t have a legal right to vacation days or sick days, something COVID did not change, which I will rant about next. We actually celebrate people who don’t take this stuff. You go to school, you get an award at the end of the 12th grade for perfect attendance, which is absolutely crazy, because that tells me you showed up or you sent your kid to school when they were sick; because kids get colds all the time. adults get colds all the time too, even pre-COVID.

So there was just this kind of glamorization and validation and valorization of work. That was utterly absurd, and it was to the detriment of all of us. Well, in this country, unless you’ve got a union, you can pretty much be fired for any reason, unless it’s a legally prohibited discrimination issue. And good luck to you, proving that, right? We don’t get paid as well as we should, we are not treated particularly well, in many cases. I could just go on and on and on. Right, I’ll stop. I mean, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re watching this broadcast, you probably know what I’m talking about.

So what the pandemic did was kind of fascinating because it worked on both levels. On the level of somebody like me, or somebody like that who could move to work at home pretty easily. In fact, I was mostly working at home even before the pandemic, because I work for the Washington Post and their offices are in Washington, and at the time I was in New York, so that presented a certain geographic problem. It just simply freed people from the tyranny of the office.

There was a lot of debate. It’s the word presenteeism, right? Presenteeism. Just show up. You were supposed to be there all the time. Wall Street was notorious for this, so was the Silicon Valley. They glamorize, Oh, you could bring your dog to work. We’re gonna give you three course, four star meals at the cafeteria. In fact, that is so that you don’t leave the damn place. Okay. So that relationship has totally suffered. All of a sudden, people are at home all the time, they don’t have to commute, which is another huge, huge issue, so they get severed from their office relationships, the idea that we’re family, right?

Secondarily, I have actually three parts to this. A hell of a lot of people, for all that they’re family, get fired in like a matter of a week, basically. They get tossed overboard for – the week of I think March 23, whatever that Monday is – over a million people get laid off the week before. And that week, people are severed from their family without a basic thought, right? There’s another good thing that comes out of that, which I will try to talk about in a second.

But the third part is and the most tragic part of this, there’s a whole group of people who can’t work at home, and they think they’re lucky they don’t get fired. They are laboring through the heart of the pandemic. And it becomes increasingly clear that a lot of their employers… and we’re talking supermarket clerks, we’re talking nurses, we’re talking warehouse workers, we’re talking doctors, garbage men, transit workers, anybody who your job can’t be remote, the idea of a remote nurse is absurd, that their employers, they come to feel don’t particularly care about that.

There, the precautions are not great, even though a lot is quickly passed to give temporary sick leave for COVID, by the way, not for anything else, but COVID. This leaves a massive loophole because a lot of employers start saying prove it. So all of a sudden, and we all know what happened with the tests and the backups and all the rest. So suddenly, people feel forced to go to work sick because they can’t prove that they’ve got COVID. I had COVID in March of 2020. I only know that for sure because I went and got antibody tested at the end of May or early June of 2020 because of course there was no easy way to get tested. I didn’t feel really well enough to start pursuing it, but wasn’t really sick enough for it to be a huge issue. So I just sort of waited it out, right.

But the point is, other people got very, very sick, and they feel their employers didn’t care in many cases. So all of this leads to some great tumult that comes in what we call the Great Resignation, that maybe could be called the Great Renegotiation. I think some people call it the Lie Down movement; I think in Asia, did I get that right? Essentially, people are like, Wait a second, what was I doing with my life? Because one of the good things that also came out of this is there was the government actually worked for once, right?

We have this idea that in our country government doesn’t work, and for the most part, it actually doesn’t. But one thing they did when faced with this emergency, in part, because our unemployment systems were in such a decrepit state, they actually didn’t know who was working for who and how much money they were earning, and especially with gig workers, that they just okay to $600 a week supplement, which for many people actually turned out to be more than they were earning on the job. So the combo of all of this leads to a great rethink on everybody’s part. There were people working remote, like, Hey, wait a minute, I could waste two hours of my life commuting and hours hanging around the office, when I don’t need to be there.

The people who’ve been fired are like, Wait a second, and, by the way, I simply have this free time, I’m not so worried about money. This is actually kind of okay, I’m working stuff out, I’m enjoying my life a little bit more. And the people, of course, who are laboring through the whole thing are increasingly furious, because they’re expected to work. They’re often still getting paid less than people who got fired because their salaries were not right, and they don’t think anybody cares about them. And in many cases, they were completely right.

So as the economy lurches back to life, as we worry less and less about the pandemic, as vaccines come online as people just simply get tired of it, fill in the blank – everybody has different feelings about this, and we’re not here to talk about that – is all of these people are suddenly rethinking their entire relationship with work, their job, their career, their family. I mean, that in a broader sense of spending time with their family, is work your family, really? And the answer is no, work is not your family. These are not people I wanted to spend all my time with, which is perfectly fair, right?

I mean, so we get this movement of people out of the workforce who don’t want to come back. You get some rich, increased retirements among the baby boomers, some of which appears to be people who just can’t get work because of age discrimination, which nobody will deal with ever in this country, as far as I can tell. And some of it is people saying, Wait a second.

I actually interviewed one guy who had lost a job just before the pandemic. Actually, he was in his 60s. It was like, Wait a second, I actually have time to see my family. This is great. And he worked in a restaurant, he was a restaurant manager and they work like 60 hours a week, and they’re salaried so they’re not getting over time. So he’s now working part time and he’s very happy. But he said to me, he probably will never go back full time. So there’s just this rethink. He actually said to me, I have a life. That was actually what he said to me.

So this has resulted in union activism, increased union activism. It’s resulted in people demanding better of their jobs. And, no, I want to work at home. I mean, it’s been actually fascinating to watch, even banks who really were trying to push people back into the office full time, in many cases, because they’re the ones financing the real estate. So they’ve got a motivation that goes way beyond their workforce to try to get people back in full time, saying, finally caving and saying, No, we’re gonna have to give these people a part time remote option. So it goes because it’s often portrayed as just this idea of, Oh, somebody just feels like working on the beach. But that’s not actually what’s going on at all.

People are actually rethinking their relationship with work, what they give to it and what they could expect back from it, and it’s been this fascinating movement. I have to say, I didn’t really see it coming. I don’t think anybody really saw it coming, and it’s been a really kind of amazing thing to watch. I think it’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out because I do believe this is partly a demographics issue. We are moving from a period where we had labor surpluses for many years, not simply because of immigration – everybody always thinks it’s immigration -it’s actually a lot to do with the baby boom, and just the surge of the population that was part of that cohort. You’re probably a baby boomer, right? I am not.

So I have been basically waiting for these people to leave the workforce 30 plus years. And how there probably will be reduced immigration going forward. Because other countries have had, like us have had falling birth rates, it’s not simply a matter of whether we shut the spigots off or put them on full blast. There’s also a supply and demand issue to be blunt about it. And most people, actually while they like the United States just fine, all things being equal would ather stay at home. Like, right, most people like their countries, they want to be there if they can afford to. And so I think you’re seeing a future coming forward of probably, you know, increased labor shortages.

And how is that going to play out? The answer is, it’s going to give people a lot more power. The downside of that is it’s probably also going to encourage more inflation. And inflation is a byproduct and part of labour shortages, because you can demand an increased salary. And that’s generally a good thing. But in the current environment we’ve lived in for the past 20 plus years, where there’s been very limited inflation, it’s going to be a huge, huge adjustment for people to really realize that wait a second, paying people fairly probably will mean my cost of living is going to go up. And watching that play out among itself is also going to be a kind of fascinating thing to0, as most people do want salary increases.

It’s weird how that works, right? We all want to be paid fairly. And fairly, it’s usually defined as more than we’re getting right now. It’s amazing how we all do that, too. But in the United States, it’s often quite correct. So anyway, I’ve been babbling and babbling, do you want me to keep going?

Vicki Robin

Anyway, you want to play it, I do have some thoughts based on what you’re saying. But if you want to. Okay, so. So I just find this. It’s very much what I’m seeing, and both of us have, a deep history in looking at the personal finance world and the world of work and the world of identification with work and the the reification of your job as your meaning and all that stuff. And I did a survey, I think you probably know about the FIRE community – Financial Independence Retire Early, which I think  it’s financial independence retire eventually, it’s sort of the meme is, is it the, the name doesn’t fit? What’s actually going on? As far as I can tell.

I did a survey about the great resignation, what did people think was motivating that, and there’s a piece of it that I think that you haven’t mentioned, but lies behind things. Part of it was it’s, it’s a sort of a, it may be called a class resentment. It’s like, wait a second, I can see that the people running my business have made out like bandits, and they’re not willing to bring me along. So there isn’t a justice part of it, where there were people who were more basically more connected with power, who are able to bleed off some of the great wash of money that was there was just like pouring out of the government. And yet they walked away with the benefit.

So there was something about dignity, that it was there was something even more core it was like, No, it wasn’t just this is not fair. It was this is not right. This is like, immoral, it’s almost like breaking the contract of a story of America that isn’t here anymore. A story of sort of getting better together rising tide, this sort of thing. I think it’s finally that contract is obviously broken. But it’s not that there isn’t money. It’s just that it’s been absorbed by the owning class.

So that’s just analytical but I’m very curious. I’m sort of watching and I’m not clear about it. What people? How are people finding to meet their needs as they unhook from jobism? What do you see changing there? It’s like some some boomers have figured out they could retire and even Gen Xers figured out, okay, I have enough I can leave the workforce. But what are people, where do you see people migrating in terms of self provisioning?

Helaine Olen

That’s a really interesting question. And I don’t think there’s an answer to that yet. I think realistically, we’re going to see, and we know this, because we live in a country with a crap safe social safety net. And a lot of people don’t have enough money for retirement, we are, the FIRE movement not withstanding, about to see a lot more older people living in poverty or near poverty, there’s a little question in my mind about that. So I don’t want to portray this as a fully terrific thing.

On the other hand, the idea that somebody in their 70s was supposed to be working behind the counter at Walmart was also kind of crazy, people aren’t that healthy a lot of the time, we have this sort of idea in our society, that people can work till they drop, but it doesn’t really work that way. It just doesn’t, I wish it did believe me, now that I’m in my 50s, I feel it. But so I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be all positive in that direction, I think there’s going to be increased pressure on the government to do something about it, I don’t know how that’s going to play out because you’re getting on one end the  pressure of I don’t want to work as much.

The other part of this, as I briefly mentioned before, there is still a massive age discrimination component. And I do think some of it, frankly, is people just don’t want to put up with that anymore, and just say, screw it, with at the same time, a push towards more austerity. And the sort of ever present threat of quote, Social Security is going to go bankrupt, right, which I’ve written about this at length, it is not true. And I wish people would stop saying it. And that could be used, however, to try to cut people’s benefits and leave them much worse off.

So financially, I’m actually still very, very concerned about a lot of this. And I think that’s why it’s so important to get pressure going for increased wages, which while they are going up, they are not going up in accordance with inflation, especially for long established workers. You’re seeing the various gains, and this is good in a lot of ways are being made for younger workers, and for the least, classically skilled workers, right, so jobs that people feel are replaceable, more or less, you’re seeing, really great gains for people who are, doing stuff like, the doormen in New York City, for instance, just got a huge raise of their best rates of contract. So you are seeing that, and that pressure is going to have to continue, because otherwise, no, people are going to have real financial issues in this environment. But in and of itself, the idea that we’re rethinking our relationship to work is a good thing. Because that keeps the pressure on it, the more you don’t think of work as your calling, as the United States work is supposed to be a calling, right?

The more that you think of work as something you do to a means to an end, instead of the end itself actually gives you more leverage to insist on being treated better, as being treated better includes being paid better, but it also includes having more control of your time. Whether that’s a movement to work less hours, I actually read about the push for 32 hour work week, this week, or whether that’s a push to save hours upon hours commuting, or it’s simply a push to be treated better at Starbucks, which is one of the great surprising stories of the of the pandemic. Nobody but nobody thought there was gonna be a massive union movement out of Starbucks, and yet here we are.

So I think all of those will come together and make this situation sustainable in a lot of ways. As I keep saying, I don’t think you’re putting this genie back in the bottle. I don’t know. But I can tell you it’s going to continue playing out. Certainly, for anybody who’s a Gen Xer, at this point, probably for the remainder of your work lifetime. I mean, it’s simply demographics insist on it, the reality of the post pandemic period insists on it. And simply the fact that people got a glimpse of another way of life plays out on it.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, I have another curiosity, and I’m sort of a you probably know this about me, but sort of just like, I’m like a little Shmoo doll, and I always land on communitarian values, that basically, one lawnmower per household, and everybody has to buy a lawn mower, but you have a lawnmower co op in a neighbourhood, and you have one lawn mower, so it’s basically cooperative solutions. It’s like the last thing, it’s like, the last thing Americans like to do is cooperate with the people next door. Yeah.

Helaine Olen

I’ve actually very into this as well, in part because of a European friend who once lectured me about this a couple of weeks ago. I’m flying back from New York to Los Angeles, and that’s just supposed to be flying into Burbank. I live near the Burbank Airport and a half hour before we land actually 35 minutes to be technically correct, they announced we’re actually not going to Burbank we’re going to LAX. And everybody of course is furious. No kidding, right? I am able because of the magic of texting, able to get to my husband who is in the car going driving to Burbank to pick me up. I am able to say go to LAX. He doesn’t respond. I text my kids, my kids call him he comes to LAX.

So as we’re leaving, because I’m pretty much assuming everybody on this plane is heading in the same direction I am, otherwise why fly to Burbank. Just for people who don’t know the geography, I should say LAX is on the Pacific Ocean pretty much one mile from the ocean. Burbank is about somewhere between 12 and 15 miles inland, which by LA traffic standards means you’re about, depending on the time of day, you’re about an hour away, right? So this is a massive inconvenience for people, they’re gonna run up Uber bills, or they’re gonna get stuck waiting at the airport for a few hours for a shuttle to get them back to Burbank.

So I very nicely say as we’re leaving, hey, by the way, we’re going to Eagle Rock that’s a neighbourhood I live in. If anybody’s heading in this direction come along, and the only people who agree are a European couple who think this is a totally normal thing to do. Right. And anyway, they were lovely. And we drove them. They they came to our house and their daughter who lived in the next community over came to pick them up. And it was very nice. Yeah, I’ve never seen them again, I have already forgotten who they are. But so but they were really lovely people. And we actually talked in the car for an hour, 45 minutes or however long we were there. And it was a really nice thing to have done. I mean, not to pat myself on the back. But this is how we should do this.

We are allergic to that in this country. And I get there are sharing groups, I get that there’s this little movement where it’s people try to do it. But I would say 99% of the time, people would rather still sell their stuff at a garage sale, and they still rather would have their own vacuum cleaner, even though how often do you really use a vacuum cleaner? I think realistically, while hey, I’m all for boutique movements like that. I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a good thing for a lot of reasons. I think it’s good for the environment. I think it’s good just to not think about spending money that way. I think it’s good to share stuff. I mean, fill in the blank, right? I just don’t think it’s ever going to catch on as a mass phenomenon. So I was wrong about that.

Vicki Robin

I am sure that that it’s going to be a mass phenomena but I just do want to say that one of the the ideas that’s been like bled out of us since the Reagan era is that the government is us, that we pay our taxes, this is our tax money, and that it’s supposed to be distributed in ways that make our lives better. And so it’s like, there’s ideas, just like universal access to health care, just that if we could solve the apitalist system for health care and have something that was more communitarian, more Canadian.

If we could get over the hump that we’re being bamboozled with, like, oh, you won’t have choice of your own doctor, it would get better for everyone. I mean, these are sort of communitarian, collective communitarian things, like it used to be that you could get free college education to the State University, or relatively free. I mean, there’s so many problems that forced people into sticking with a job to get the money to get health care, like you have to have a job in order to have access to your health care. So I’m not just saying like the boutique little buy nothing groups, which I adore. But I’m talking about like the unionization in Amazon, and Starbucks or any of these. Are these harbingers of a willingness on the part of Americans to solve problems together?

Helaine Olen

I think yes, and no, I think there’s a lot of cynicism about government. And I think in a weird way, it was compounded by the fact that the government actually responded to us initially, during the pandemic, we did get the expanded unemployment, we did get the child care tax credit, there was no matter how imperfectly enacted it was there was sick leave for COVID. And there was this thought that, oh, we’ll build on these gains, this will be terrific, right? I mean, and I think the left is still having a huge problem processing this, by the way. And in fact, it all went nowhere. Basically, child care tax credit ended, unemployment, extended unemployment, and the COVID sick leave ended, there’s been no movement pretty much for everything, for any of this stuff.

Instead, there’s been this individual argument over masks, which whatever you think of masking and aeroplanes and everything else is, in a lot of ways, the ultimate individual solution to a pandemic. My point was somebody the other day, better than arguing over masks on airlines, ix get into an argument with the airlines about filtration systems at the boarding and landing, like, because actually, the filtration systems while they’re in flight are actually quite good. There’s a reason there’s almost no trace of a pandemic of a super spreader event on an airline and in all seriousness, people don’t want to believe this. But the problem is, is boarding and landing, right? I’m digressing slightly. Yeah, go argue about that, instead of going to argue with some random person about they don’t have their mask on properly, or you think they should be wearing a mask when they’re not, or they shouldn’t be, right? Like, this is Americans as individualists.

So but I think it reflects on my my bigger point is I think it reflects a vast cynicism about government, the government isn’t going to help us. And I think in a weird way that was made worse by the pandemic, because it did work for a few for like, a moment. And now all of a sudden, it’s like, Wait, we’re back to this unrepresentative government, where studies show that it represents the interests of the 1%. And the rest of us could go, fly a kite, basically. And you see this over and over again.

I think healthcare is actually a real example of this because if you look at polls, after inflation, after the crime stuff, sometimes up there with them is health care. And I can tell you I listen to these a lot, my dad was in market research, I am extra fascinated by polling and focus groups, and I get to listen to a lot of them, when health care comes up immediately, and I mean, it comes up so fast. The whoever’s running the group doesn’t even have to ask about it. It’s almost like what’s bothering you and somebody else will say, I was at the pharmacy last week, and I had to pay $100 for a drug or I was, my mother died last year. And in part, it was because we couldn’t afford her medical bills, and we couldn’t afford treat her cancer the way we wanted to. And the insurance company denied the treatment, we wanted right. And that those are all examples I’ve actually heard, right.

So I’m not like exaggerating this stuff. I mean, GoFundMe is basically got a business model because the American health care systems such shit, right, like, totally, so the idea that we have the greatest health care system in the world is a joke. Okay. I just want to put that out there. And so none of this is getting solved right. And I think this is it’s so not getting solved, it’s almost like people don’t want to engage with it right now. And I think it’s leading to this vast, vast disappointment. I tend to have a suspicion though, I can’t exactly prove the mechanism for how this works, that it’s part of what has fueled some of the cynicism about vaccines, and the vaccine resistance movement.

I think the idea of the money that has so gotten caught up in the American healthcare system has just totally turned a lot of people against it in a very profound and disturbing way. And if you’re listening to this, and you’re an anti-vaxxer you’re wrong. I’m sorry. Okay, you’re just wrong. Okay. It’s like one of the greatest miracles of our lifetime, vaccines, okay.

So how is this is all going to resolve out? I don’t know, but you just feel the discouragement when you talk to people about it. You feel the increased cynicism, you feel that they don’t want to deal with government anymore. You feel it in the disappointment with talk about Democrats who, by the way, are almost as responsible as Republicans for not doing anything about prescription drug prices. And I don’t know how that results except to say I don’t think it resolves very well. We’re supposed to be talking about happy things.

Vicki Robin

No no, we are supposed to talking about in all that seems to be going awry, what are the little green shoots you see sprouting in the sidewalk? And I will say that, it’s like listening to you, I do think this great resignation has at least it has seeds in there that we’re going to be very interested in watching how they sprout?

Helaine Olen

It is,  and I will say one of the things government did and I think it’s a factor in the great resignation too, is that there was expanded Affordable Care Health credits that might or might not continue to exist going forward. Call Joe Manchin’s office, people call person senators’ offices. If they do or if they don’t, I think it will impact the great resignation significantly, no question about that. Because one of the things that I think has enabled it has been the fact that people were able to access health care at significantly lower prices.

Vicki Robin

Right. So it may be that, listening to you so we should we should probably, like take this home, how are we going to take this on? I do think that what you’re saying is that the there’s so much that’s in flux, and that maybe we had a taste of what could go right. And right now we’re in the process of those tastes being taken away from us, no, you cannot come to the buffet anymore, and have a little bit of healthcare. I don’t know whether that will put more pressure on people to do things like the organising for unions, the union at Amazon warehouse, it’s like, there are things that are popping out of this. That is that is more demand to have to not have our future stolen from us continually.

Helaine Olen

I think one of the good things that have happened is people actually took corporate rhetoric very seriously. And Starbucks is actually the greatest example of this, because Starbucks was doing socially conscious, quote, stakeholder capitalism, you know, long before it became a trend, right, and I will spare you my thoughts on what I think of stakeholder capitalism, but suffice it to say I think it’s mostly PR, right? In theory, I support it. In fact, I think it’s right, right. Starbucks was calling, you know, their employees, partners, you know, and claiming, well, we don’t want a union getting between us and our partners, as if, you know, the employees of the coffee shops, had an individual person at HQ in Seattle, that they were calling, right. And, you know, they were very socially conscious. And they talked about the rights of workers out on the coffee farms and whatnot. And I think, this generation of, you know, younger millennials, older Gen Z years, were like, wait a second, like, you’re treating me like X, and you’re saying Y, like, this doesn’t really make sense. And they’re not cynical about it, they wanted to do something about it, which is great.

I guess that’s another real shoot of hope. It’s like, wait a second, we’re gonna call you out on this stuff. Like, we’re gonna say, you support gay rights, then what the heck are you doing with your campaign donations, like, which is a very good example. It’s a great simplification of what happened. But you’ve got to like speak up, like, you can’t just get away with this stuff. And again, how that will play out if the economy goes into recession and jobs become more scarce, I don’t know.

But on the other hand, people tend to not want to give back so easily. I think the greatest example of it was the remote work thing, which conpanies are really throwing in the towel on least in terms of getting people back five days a week. It is very rare that you’re seeing companies really try to push for five days a week anymore. And while you know you could say well it;s defeat they want them there two days a week, and I really wanted to live in Montana, the  company’s in New York and wait a second, that’s not gonna work, in fact it’s still a huge victory, that you only have to go in two or three days.

Vicki Robin

Exactly, exactly. I want to start to bring this down. What I’m hearing from you is, despite all the horrific trends to do the opposite, we’ve had a taste of dignity, we’ve had a taste of mattering. I think this time has been… they say the apocalypse is really means the great unveiling. I think we’re seeing through some of the rhetoric, and hopefully, there will be enough energy at the grassroots and probably from younger people who are really the ones who are on the butt end of this thing, to not accept the magnetic pull into the old order.

I hope that some of these examples you’ve given are harbingers. What would you say, just give one little piece of advice to people who are listening to this, if you sort of have a sense that there is always in everything, there’s always opportunity emerging? What would you say to people about how to engage now?

Helaine Olen

That’s a good question. I guess to insist – let’s use the word you’re using – dignity, right? Insist on your dignity. Think about what you want, and what you need, and make that the primary focus to not confuse your needs with corporate needs or government needs. But what about you, and what do you want? And, excuse me, for most of us we want something fairly simple and basic, we want our dignity, we want to be able to live a decent life, we want to be free of financial want.

I think to try to keep the focus going forward on on that, because that’s how we’re gonna get to more improved conditions is just this insistence. And I don’t mean it in the selfish I want  a kazillion dollars, why, but this most people want good relations with their co-workers. They don’t want to be competing with them all the time. I mean, which is another lovely tactic of our corporate state often. And I think that, just insisting on dignity, as you keep saying, it’s just this insanely valuable thing, and it’s something we’ve just forgotten in our country or had forgotten, I should say,

Vicki Robin

Thank you insisting on dignity. I think that goes a long way. Helaine thinks it goes a long, long way. Even if it seems like the swamp is is sucking you down again, insisting on dignity is really sort of like a lifesaver. Which direction is my dignity? I like that a lot. I’ll take that. I hope so. Yeah, I thank you so much for taking this time. And it’s fascinating, all the things that, your keen eye on the dynamics of how our economy plays out is really valuable. I really, really appreciate you bringing that up.

Helaine Olen

So I appreciate everything you’ve done. So thank you.

Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin is a prolific social innovator, writer, speaker, and host of the What Could Possibly Go Right? podcast. She is coauthor with Joe Dominguez of the international best-seller, Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Viking Penguin, 1992, 1998, 2008, 2018). And author of Blessing the Hands that Feed Us; Lessons from a 10-mile diet (Viking Penguin, 2013), which recounts her adventures in hyper-local eating and what she learned about food, farming, belonging, and hope. Vicki has lectured widely and appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” and National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” and “Morning Edition.” She has also been featured in hundreds of magazines including People Magazine, AARP, The Wall Street Journal, Woman’s Day, Newsweek, Utne Magazine, and the New York Times. She currently lives on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound and is active in her community on a range of social and environmental issues including affordable housing, local food, and community investing. For fun, she is a comedy improv actress, sings in a choir, gardens, and nurtures a diverse circle of friends.

Tags: building resilient economies, social safety nets, the Great Resignation