The transformation of labor since the creation of Labor Day a century ago tells, in many ways, the story of modern America. Paid labor was then all-consuming, generally backbreaking, done mainly by men, often dangerous and, of course, endless--that is, most men worked until they couldn't.
The economy's slide has one familiar feature: few, if any, economists predicted it. We should not be surprised. Economists routinely miss the turning points of business cycles and, indeed, have missed most of the major economic transformations of the past half century, whether for good or ill.
;The great danger of any economic slowdown is that it feeds on itself. We already see signs of this in the United States. Weaker consumer spending and business investment hurt corporate profits, depressing stock prices and confidence, which then harm consumer spending and business investment.
The latest census seems to have been a consciousness-raising exercise--at least for the press. It has inspired a series of stories recognizing that large-scale immigration is transforming America. "Diversity" is, of course, the reigning cliche, but even while the press overuses the term, there's been a subtle and useful shift in tone and message.
John Kenneth Galbraith, the economist and writer, coined the phrase "conventional wisdom" more than four decades ago in his 1958 best-selling book, "The Affluent Society." As Galbraith defined it, the conventional wisdom embodied the prevailing set of beliefs about any particular subject or topic.
The power crisis in California--rolling black-outs, two huge utilities verging on bankruptcy--is a fitting commentary on U.S. "energy policy." We Americans want it all: endless and secure energy supplies; low prices; no pollution; less global warming; no new power plants (or oil and gas drilling, either) near people or pristine places.