Thursday, June 14, 2012

The middle class gets crushed

I wrote the following in 1985. It would eventually become part of Chapter Fourteen of Elegant Technology. (pg.180)  So I have been watching the destruction of the American middle class for a long time.  So now that the middle class has been nearly impoverished, some wonder if the class war will end.  Not so long as the middle still has something ($77,300) it won't.
Americans think that the middle class is ordained of the gods. They forget that it was a product of their grandparents, and their wisdom. Many societies exist throughout the world with no real middle class. Like anything else, the middle can be destroyed.

In America, the middle is under siege: the political middle, the economic middle, and even the geographic middle. Charts of American prosperity in the 1980s showed that the 34 states in the middle of the country were in recession during a “growing economy.” Great societies are produced by the middle. An assault on the middle is an assault on the social fabric.

The attack on the middle comes from an odd grab-bag of political bedfellows. From the political right the assault is a combination of Wall Street dealmakers who busy themselves destroying the futures of small Midwestern cities, and their neofeudalist apologists who concocted the utter barbarism known as monetarism. From the political left, the antitechnology, antibusiness, postindustrialists propose rationales for why this destruction does not matter.
Henry Blodget's take on the Federal Reserve's announcement.

THE MOST IMPORTANT STORY IN AMERICA: Family Net Worth Collapses 40% In 3 Years

Henry Blodget | Jun. 12, 2012

The report included a lot of depressing data about the financial situation of average Americans. But nothing was so shocking and depressing as this:

The median net worth of American families dropped nearly 40% from 2007 to 2010.


(Yes, the situation has improved in the 18 months since 2010, but only modestly. House prices are about where they were back then.)

Most of this decline came from the collapse of the housing market. But we can't just write this one off to the housing bubble. The median net worth of households has now fallen to the same level as it was two decades ago, in 1992.

What does that mean?

It means America just isn't working right now.

Not just Americans. America itself, a country whose economy once worked for almost everyone.

In the old America, if you worked hard, you had a good chance of moving up.

In the old America, the fruits of people's labors accrued to the whole country, not just the top.

In the old America, there was a strong middle class, and their immense collective purchasing power drove the economy for decades.

No longer.

Over the past couple of decades, the American economy has increasingly mostly worked for the richest Americans, at the expense of everyone else. As a result, the disparity between "the 1%" and "the 99%" has hit a level not seen since the 1920s. And there is a widespread and growing sense that life here is not fair or right.

The middle class--the average American families--drive most of the spending in this country. Thus, when the middle class suffers, the whole economy suffers. And, right now, America just isn't working for the middle class.

If we are to get this country headed in the right direction again, we need to fix this problem. We can start by appreciating how bad it is. more

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