Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Dismantling of the American Middle Class

Contrary to popular thought, the middle class hasn’t really disappeared.  It just moved back to its previous location, to what I call the “subsistence class”.  So, we're not headed towards a society of just “haves or have not’s”. It's more like a society of haves, have little, and have not's.
For much of human history, there were just three classes of economic existence: the rich, the subsistence and the poor.  In the middle ages, the subsistence class is easily recognized by its groveling to landlords and bosses to barely keep their families fed, housed, and clothed.  Not much has really changed.  The poor, having virtually no safety net, merely depended on the meager scraps from the tables of their subsistence neighbors. Often in history, there was little that differentiated the poor and subsistence class.

The concept of the “middle class” is historically, a very recent economic construct.  Born during the Machine Age in the 19th century, greatly expanded by Keynesian economics in post WWII economies, it becomes a fourth economic class, that augments the subsistence class, but not replacing it.
The birth of the middle class in America should have meant the insertion of a more attainable class for all American Dreamer to aspire to.  In reality, with the firm entrenchment of America racist legacy, the middle class just became another level of upward dependency for a subsistence class, made up largely of racial minorities. 

With the rich getting richer, and Republicans shifting taxes from the rich to the middle class, the only available class with sufficient income to tax, the rich, beginning with Ronald Reagan, began to openly exploit the post 60’s latent racism of the middle class.
I often pondered why the middle class is apparently so antithetical to capitalism, when it fueled the growth of wealth enjoyed by the capitalist?  Could it be that such a class, with access to good and higher education, with well earned job security, demands for pay equity, prove to be an future obstacle to unfettered capitalist greed? 
Nope.   While the consumerism of the middle class could contribute to their coffers, to the rich, the middle class were just unnecessary middle men (and women).  The rich just wanted to reclaim the wealth that would have been theirs had the middle class not existed.  They sensed that the America’s middle class, overwhelmingly white and male dominated, with its veins of racism, was ripe for exploitation.

As the racial minorities of the subsistence class began to avail itself of better than subsistence wages, mostly through the efforts of public sector unions, the rich, with a stratagem worth its weight in gold, turned the middle class in on itself, by convincing the middle class, who owes its existence to unions, that unions, with their demands for fare wages, job safety and security, and healthcare and retirement benefits, are what’s wrong with our economy.  Unions were getting pay increases for people who didn't deserve jobs, much less raises.  Unions had to be stopped or the middle class would face more tax increases, for the "job creators" and corporations could not possibly bear any additional taxes (or any taxes at all).

As corporations and the rich were granted tax cuts, coupled with jobs being moved off shore, the resultant decrease in tax revenues stretched budgets to breaking points, providing newly elected Republican governors, with their middle class and poor electorate, the ammunition to kill off more unions.  Having drunk the Kool-Aid the rich generously served, spiked with their own racism, the American middle class, simply dismantled itself. 

Around Feb 2011, America heard a very loud collective WTF (in the form of huge protest and rallies) as Wisconsin pondered what the hell had they elected to their state's government.  But it was too late.  They had already cut their collective throats to spite their collective faces.
Oh, lest we forget the poor!  What’s happening to them, as the middle class is in its death throes?  As budgets tightened, their needs are increasingly neglected, while their ranks grow grotesquely unsustainably large, as more flow down from the subsistence and middle class.  I guess it’s going to take all 99% joining the ranks of the poor before we finally address what is the grotesque greed of the 1%.

1 comment:

  1. Earnest nails it again!! I have missed your posts. However, I am surprised you did not included the race-baiting by the 1% on the white working class, convincing them that jobs were being lost to blacks due to unfair racial quotas, the "reverse-discrimination" ploy. When jobs started moving overseas, people like Jesse Helms exploited racism with his famous "hands" ad.