Excerpted from Charles Hugh Smith:
“Social recession is my term for the social and cultural consequences of a permanently recessionary economy such as that of Japan—and now, Europe and the U.S.
Forget Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of expansion (“growth”) or recession—what really matters is the social recession, which continues to deepen in America.
The term social recession has two distinct meanings: around 2000, the term was used to describe the erosion of social cohesion via the decline of institutions such as marriage and the rise of social problems such as teen pregnancy.
Many commentators pinned the responsibility for this erosion of social constraints and bonds on rampant individualism and overstimulated consumerism, while others pointed to urbanization, the commodification of child care, women entering the workforce en masse and similar trends. Poverty was explicitly rejected as a causal factor, hence the term “social recession.”
This notion of social recession was aptly described by Robert E. Lane, author of the 2001 book The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies:
There is a kind of famine of warm interpersonal relations, of easy-to-reach neighbors, of encircling, inclusive memberships, and of solidary family life… For people lacking in social support of this kind, unemployment has more serious effects, illnesses are more deadly, disappointment with one’s children is harder to bear, bouts of depression last longer, and frustration and failed expectations of all kinds are more traumatic.
(For more on the subject, please see “The Social Recession” (The American Prospect.)
I use the term social recession to describe a very different phenomenon, the social and cultural consequences of permanently recessionary economies such as Japan, and now Europe and the U.S.
I have defined and used social recession in this way since 2010:
The Non-Financial Cost of Stagnation: “Social Recession” and Japan’s “Lost Generations” (August 9, 2010)
Here are the conditions that characterize social recession:
1. High expectations of endless rising prosperity have been instilled in generations of citizens as a birthright.
2. Part-time and unemployed people are marginalized, not just financially but socially.
3. Widening income/wealth disparity as those in the top 10% pull away from the shrinking middle class.
4. A systemic decline in social/economic mobility as it becomes increasingly difficult to move from dependence on the state (welfare) or parents to the middle class.
5. A widening disconnect between higher education and employment: a college/university degree no longer guarantees a stable, good-paying job.
6. A failure in the status quo institutions and mainstream media to recognize social recession as a reality.
7. A systemic failure of imagination within state and private-sector institutions on how to address social recession issues.
8. The abandonment of middle class aspirations by the generations ensnared by the social recession: young people no longer aspire to (or cannot afford) consumerist status symbols such as autos.
9. A generational abandonment of marriage, families and independent households as these are no longer affordable to those with part-time or unstable employment, i.e. the “end of work”.
10. A loss of hope in the young generations as a result of the above conditions.”