BG: I’m no economist, but I think that when foreign competition stiffened in the 1970s, absolute return on capital declined, and going abroad was the solution to that. The lessons of the 1930s had been forgotten, and there was a strong drive to curb the power of unions.
We ’60s activists were certain we could make the world better. But I have written three books now about the lives of American working people. Not only did things not improve for the factory workers I wrote about in my first book, but the stress and indignities they faced at work have been moving up the occupational ladder. White-collar and professional workers have quotas that are constantly being raised, and more and more they are being hired as hourly workers without benefits or security.
I was brought up believing in progress — you know, diseases get cured, each generation does a little better, just how short will the workweek get? I never dreamed I’d live to write about things getting worse.
AARP: Some five years ago when the housing bubble burst, it left more than one-third of California mortgages under water, you write in Down the Up Escalator. You say that two decades of living in that bubble had led people to a different way of thinking about home and debt — different in what way?
BG: So many people in California got swept into the bubble of thinking about their house as an investment. Bibi San Antonio, the mortgage-loan broker I met in Burbank, was in the same house-flipping scheme that she was selling to customers. A lot of people I met in California were planning to profit from their homes, even if it meant they had to move every couple of years.