Saturday, January 02, 2010

Macro Employment, Animation Employment

This today from the Washington Post is pretty stunning:

... The past decade was the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times, a sharp reversal from a long period of prosperity that is leading economists and policymakers to fundamentally rethink the underpinnings of the nation's growth.

It was, according to a wide range of data, a lost decade for American workers ... There has been zero net job creation since December 1999. No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less than 20 percent. Economic output rose at its slowest rate of any decade since the 1930s as well ...

The above is pretty amazing to me, for a lot of reasons. When I was a teenager in the 1960s. the Great Depression was something they taught in schools, but seemed like ancient history. That kind of thing just couldn't happen anymore. We were all now much smarter than that now, with bank insurance and financial regulations and a social safety net that prvented people from having to sell apples on street corners or ride the rails looking for work. Even though it was only thirty years back in our history, it was -- to me -- long ago and far away, similar to a fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderson.

Uh, no.

The lesson I've gleaned from this (and older histories) is that human beings never permanently learn anything. The painful tutorials supplied by wars and depressions fade away, and a new generation that knows it's smarter, hipper, and all around more savvy than the old fuds around it says: "This time it's different! We're in a new paradigm now! Nothing can go wrong! We've had a major economic/cultural/wartime shift and the old numbers don't compute anymore!"

To which the smart response is to say, "Crap." I heard the same things during the dot-com bubble, I heard them during the real estate boom. I heard them about Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan. Conventional Wisdom yells out: "Don't worry! Everything's under control!" Except it isn't.*

Which brings us to the Micro part of the story: Toonville. On graph paper, animation employment has looked something like the internet boom of a decade ago, something like this:

Looks reassuring, yes? But inside the graph are the flesh-and-blood realities: Lots of CG animators and technicians thriving; many hand-drawn veterans struggling. Much project-to-project work and minimal long-term security. There might be robust employment numbers at any given moment, but two flops and three quarters of bad profit-and-loss numbers and the studio sheds 70% of its staff.

(I never forget that Walt Disney Feature Animation laid off hundreds of employees in 1958 ... 2001 ... 2002 ... and 2007. Or that Filmation was the biggest animation employer in 1985 and out of business in 1989.)

Beyond everything else, animation production and employment is market driven, and animation has had a hell of a run (with interruptions) since the 1990s. My take-away from everything up to now is just this:

1) Know your craft, improve your craft.

2) Be nice to people you work with (even the ones who drive you up the wall), because they can hurt you or help you when you least expect it.

3) Live below your means whenever possible. (I know a wildly successful director who drove the same old car for years, even when he could have afforded a five-car garage filled with Lexi. I consider him a smart, smart man.)

4) Understand that it's as Roger Miller sings. Nothing is forever.

* I know I'm whistling in the wind, but to the extent possible, let us refrain from "Bush ... Obama ... Liberals ... Conservatives ... are idiots and got us into this mess." My thesis is: Here we are. How do we deal with it? Thanks much.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you are being fair in stating that the current generation is so stupid that they let the same depression hit again.

This recession is a kind that has never happened before. Its a massive disparity between massive debt relative to income and/or wealth. We've gone debt crazy in this nation from the huge corporations right down to each and every individual.

There is a paradox here too(I love paradoxes)in that no individual in this nation has good standing with creditors unless they are maintaining numerous forms of debt.
You'd think an individual who has paid everything off would be a favorable citizen in the light of lenders, but instead lenders have been looking at our society from a predatory perspective. They want you to owe. They want you to owe a lot and be tied into a cycle of payment. With this set of circumstances being that which provides an individual with more affluence in this nation, is it fair to question the freedom here in America?

Or to be surprised that the bottom fell out from an economy relying more and more on fake wealth?

Anonymous said...

In the last ten years Ive started in the industry, failed, succeeded, got laid off, re-hired, got a huge raise, took a pay cut.

But Ive made cartoons and had a great time, and am currently gainfully employed. Here's to the next 10 years, hoping they are as prosperous and educational to me as the last 10.

Anyway, I have my suspicions that the failing economy of the last decade has a lot to do with rampant, greedy, unchecked capitalism, as evidenced by mass corporatism, the vast divide of wealth distribution, and the failure of the work ethic and education of this generation of workers. Many people of my generation (and others) just dont take education and work seriously. College now exists as a place to get drunk and sleep around for a couple years before getting scared into cheating on exams, where you ultimately end up with a meaningless diploma and (unless you are lucky or actually have a work ethic) a minimum wage job upon graduation. And most workers do the bare minimum to earn their paycheck, finding creative ways to look busy while surfing the internet all day.

Few are creative, few are good. And those that are end up either getting sucked into the greed pit, or get bought out by one of the huge companies where their brilliance isnt appreciated or nurtured.

There's more to it Im sure, but thats my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I guess you were whistling in the wind. Because it took until the second post for someone to ignore you. Sad, sad, little anonymous man.

Anonymous said...

You'd think an individual who has paid everything off would be a favorable citizen in the light of lenders, but instead lenders have been looking at our society from a predatory perspective. They want you to owe

I've always thought this, and it still befuddles me how this can exist. Thanks for articulating it.

1st anonymous post said...

Yeah, its crazy. I don't owe anything because I rent and I buy my cars used - and I get turned down because of my credit. I even been told that I should buy a new car with payments or get a house with payments to get my credit up. You are only attractive to the powers that be if you are tied to a cycle of payments.
The only thing I am buying for the upcoming year is a gun. Because this economy is going to get a LOT worse folks.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to put blame, necessarily, on individuals, but rather on a type of ideology.

We have been told, from those on a particular side of the spectrum, that trickle-down economics would result in a betterment for the middle-class. That the best way for the average American to see a better quality of life is through tax cuts, bigger tax cuts for the wealthy, and laisse-faire attitudes (deregulation) for business and Wall Street. Fewer restrictions on businesses would result in greater jobs, and all would benefit.

In the 2000's, we were able to put this theory to the test. We gave it a legitimate try, and I was as interested as any to see the result, positive or negative. I believe those results are now in, and are plain as day. The results show that this theory is wrong.

Indeed, some did benefit greatly from this theory. Those already at the top of the economic scale financially benefited significantly, because their taxes were greatly reduced, and had fewer restrictions on their businesses and investments.

The vast majority of the American public did not benefit, but in fact were actively harmed by this economic theory. They did not see greater job growth. Wages were stagnant at best. Their taxes were cut, but only insignificantly. They saw erosion to their workplace protections. And most saw their investments go south, thanks to rampant corruption in a deregulated, non-oversighted Wall Street. In short, it has been a disaster for middle- and working-class Americans.

Trickle-down is demonstrably a failure and a danger to society, and should be avoided at all costs in the future. It has been exposed as nothing but a rationale for the wealthy to receive money from the government, paid for by working Americans.

Steve Hulett said...

I don't think you are being fair in stating that the current generation is so stupid that they let the same depression hit again.

This recession is a kind that has never happened before.

Mais non.

If you read William J. Bernstein, or any number of economists, you'll see (sadly) that this type of thing has happened over and over, going back to Holland and tulip bulbs. Details slightly different. Story essentially the same.

There were educated folks who never saw this one coming. But there were many who saw the unfolding disaster clearly, way before it happened.

Humans have a knack for seeing what they want to see ... until reality finally knocks them on their backsides.

Note: I'm removing most of the political comments, as the mood strikes me.

It's not that I'm unsympathetic, I just don't want to get into the nasty snark today. We all get it: "Stupid Bush visited us with disaster." / "Stupid Obama is making things way worse."

Yeah, hm hm. But here we are.

Anonymous said...

Debt is the modern indentured servitude. We are all victims of this and have been for at least thirty years. The last ten years has been the most astonishing display of American gullibility and stupidity. We've conducted two foreign wars based on borrowing. Talk about the ultimate sin. Not to mention medicare and medicaid costs which are on the way to swallowing up the government whole. The small government argument makes no sense when you actually sit down and look at the figures and see that they, both parties, pay for all of it by borrowing. So little of it comes from your tax dollars. It is all debt and it is very close to all of it coming home to roost. And the only way to pay for it is not just by higher taxes, because that is a certainty by this point. We will all pay through the nose with inflation. You don't erase ten trillion with friggin taxes. And the two idiot parties will put on a show over taxes when both know that in the end, they are powerless to do anything except devalue what is in your wallet. And they know they can do it. They will erase your salary in a heartbeat. After all, we ran off to Iraq like lemmings and we could do nothing. Unless we can contribute something useful to the world beyond predator drones, we are indeed screwed.

Anonymous said...

And it doesnt help that our education system is churning out a bunch of know-nothing, useless slobs every year. We're dumbing ourselves down.

(for the record, I partly blame the system, but I also blame parents and lazy individuals growing up in a self-entitled society, where the primary focus of LIFE is to get rich with the least amount of effort or knowledge possible. Television shows like Meet the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, and all of the Housewives of WhoGivesAShit County are perfect examples of where our country is heading and why.)

Anonymous said...

There is something deeply wrong with the American preoccupation with facades - houses, cars, movies, television. Things must look perfect and well on the surface. Underneath? Who gives a shit, right? As long as I'm leasing a Hummer....

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first poster. Lenders don't respect people who have no debt. Damn weird, but there you are.

Anonymous said...

I sure do agree with the 5th poster in... buckle up because this economy is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Our political elite are spending us into ruin and the like of which we haven't even felt the full effects from yet.

Anonymous said...

Buying a gun isnt a good idea, is it? Really?

Let's try to use our words, not bullets, okay?

Anonymous said...

I don't owe anything because I rent and I buy my cars used - and I get turned down because of my credit. I even been told that I should buy a new car with payments or get a house with payments to get my credit up.

I think there is something else at play here. Before I owned a new car, or owned a house, or really had payments on anything at all. I had very good credit and the only thing I did was have a credit card that I paid off every month.

My wife owed school loans, had a car she made payments on and her credit was not as good. Not bad, just not as good. My point is, there are other factors at play they probably aren't telling you or you aren't telling us.

That was a long time ago though. So maybe things have changed.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above poster. I have never been in any debt, and all I do is pay off my credit card in full each month. (I did once buy an expensive TV and sofa on credit, and paid them off, and that was years ago.)

I have excellent credit today. So I don't think it is true that creditors today demand you be in constant debt.

There are many factors that may negatively affect a person's credit--some of which can seem very surprising. If you are interested, do a Google search. Things like canceling an old credit card can hurt your credit score. The good news is that time, and doing the "right" things, will improve your credit score.

Anonymous said...

I hate all of this "mea culpa" shit. We're too greedy, we're too lazy, we're too materialistic, too wasteful, blah blah, blah, ad nauseum.

Hey, wake up! There is nothing wrong with us. It's not our fault. That's more of their propaganda; their misdirection. It's the money protecting itself. The money buys the politicians. The money buys the media. The money controls the message. They tell us what to fear. They tell us what to fight for. They tell us who to blame: never them, never the truth.

They finally got sloppy thanks to a particularly incompetent, arrogant president. They carelessly left too many of us on the edge of survival, so they lost control of both the White House and Congress.

They got what they deserve; the president of their worst nightmares. Not a god or a saint or a savior, but a smart, level headed, articulate, pragmatist whose mother was a victim of the health care system and seems to be immune to baiting accusations of Socialism.

They still haven't given up, however. Once again they are spending billions trying to convince the gullible to vote against their own self interests. For example, what most civilized countries take for granted; universal health care, becomes the harbinger of impending government tyranny. That's the way they work it: instead of ensuring their future access to health and survival, they are back in Boston harbor, wearing war paint, fighting the British. What a waste of resources that could be better spent actually fixing things and solving problems!

Unbridled greed has always been the most destructive force in our history; from the moment Columbus landed and wiped out the native population, to the genocide of native (north) Americans, to slavery, to trusts and monopolies to the Depression to the recession we find ourselves in now.

There is no simple easy or magic solution. We need to take a cold hard objective look at the entire structure of our economy and its institutions. We need to take every economic and political theory that has ever been written, throw it all in a big bonfire and start from scratch.

Anonymous said...

Starting from scratch implies starting with no debt. That is impossible. Unless we all write the big check together. Or we all settle for much less together. Less military, less healthcare, less standard of living, less basic services. Collective sacrifice. Then find the politician that will be elected on those grounds.

So everyone pony up their 35K. Let's have it, people.

Anonymous said...

What about this movement to get people to transfer the money from large banks to local banks?

Is this a good idea?

Anonymous said...

It's a decent idea, but an even better idea is to move it to a credit union. Credit unions are owned by their members, so there's no profit motive, and therefore no reason to jack you with fees, hidden costs, and all the other things for-profit banks are doing these days. They also usually offer loans at better interest rates, and so forth.

And credit unions are every bit as FDIC-insured as a regular bank.

Either way, yes, I think some good consumer pressure on big banks would be a VERY good thing to force them to clean up their acts, and the best way to do that is to close your accounts with them.

r said...

"Less military"

u hit the nail in the head. The US spends more in weapons and the military than the rest of the world convined.


r said...



Arlo said...

"The US spends more in weapons and the military than the rest of the world combined."

Yes, you are correct. And yet you paint a consummately incomplete picture of our military spending, as our military provided protection from the Soviet Union for most of Europe throughout the cold war. Protection I might add, that was required, and we all should be thankful for because the Europe remained free and diverse because of our military's presence. We're still there. 65 years after the end of the cold war our military has a massive presence there. A presence that Germany requests remain. Look no further that this NYTimes article from 2004 for a profile of how upset German communities were when President Bush closed bases there:

So the next time someone crows about how our military spending has been a waste because we could have european style universal health care, remember that we subsidized most of the european health care systems in europe by allowing them to spend naught on national security.

The million dollar question is who will subsidize our nation so we can invest in our health care? Who will fund our infrastructure? No one?

So be it, but remember how Euprean nations got their universal health car systems. We paid for them by providing their national security for nearly half a century.

Anonymous said...

I find it bizarre that conservatives have always supported spending a fortune to 'protect' other continents when it was America's steadfast isolationism in the face of Europe's nonstop conflict that allowed it to flourish. It is one of the founding principals of the country.

Post WWII, America flourished b/c our economy was the only one left standing large enough to fill the bomb craters dotted over the rest of the world. We have been long supplanted as the engine of industry and spent that blank check plus trillions more. We live on borrowed time and money. We were living on borrowed money in 1970, 1980, 1990, and, of course, in 2000, before 9-11. Which is why our jaunts in Afghanistan and Iraq I and II were launched on immoral public-private partnerships that gave you Halliburton fast food pizza chain bases and Blackwater mercenaries. The Bush administrations 'hawks' applied their genius free market and 'small' government dogma onto our military. And it failed - all of it. And now we pay for the next one hundred years, with compounding interest. Wars require sacrifice. They require conscription. Do you remember conscription? War requires total buy-in from the public, not bribery. The hawks knew they could not go to war with conscription. So after 9-11, George W. told us to go to the malls. How completely sad and pathetic. We lose. The wars, our houses, and our health.

And we are talking about 20th century Europe's healthcare system? What's Europe?

Anonymous said...

"I find it bizarre that conservatives have always supported spending a fortune to 'protect' other continents "

I like how you leapfrog every american leader since the cold war that WASN'T a conservative when you attack the salient position of providing for allies. Not only do you assume that your own selfish and myopic world view should extend to leaders of nations(brilliant - really), but you demonstrate the kind of cgnitive disonance that can only be responsible for fractured logic like yours. Fractured logic and a grotesque ignorance of world history.

You can state that every Americans president since the cold war is wrong headed or take the short distance to the truth and admit you are an idiot.
Go to another country and complain about every sling and arrow of your existance there. We have enough people like you bogging us down with the retarded take on the world that we shouldn't provide for allies.

Uh duh.

Anonymous said...

You could have just vomited the usual "love it or leave it" and saved yourself some keystrokes.


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