By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The children of America’s white-collar middle class viewed life from their green lawns and tidy urban flats as a field of opportunity. Blessed with quality schools, seaside vacations and sleepover camp, they just knew that the American dream was theirs for the taking if they hit the books, picked a thoughtful and fulfilling career, and just, well, showed up.
Until it wasn’t.
While they were playing Twister and imagining a bright future, someone apparently decided that they didn’t really matter. Clouds began to gather—a “dark shimmer of constantly shifting precariousness,” as journalist Alissa Quart describes in her timely new book “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America.”
The things these kids considered their birthright—reputable colleges, secure careers, and attractive residences—were no longer waiting for them in adulthood.
Today, with their incomes flat or falling, these Americans scramble to maintain a semblance of what their parents enjoyed. They are moving from being dominant to being dominated. From acting to acted upon. Trained to be educators, lawyers, librarians, and accountants, they do work they can’t stand to support families they rarely see. Petrified of being pushed aside by robots, they rankle to see financial titans and tech gurus flaunting their obscene wealth at every turn.
Headlines gush of a humming economy, but it doesn’t feel like a party to them—and they’ve seen enough to know who will be holding the bag when the next bubble bursts.
The “Middle Precariats,” as Quart terms them, are suffering death by a thousand degradations. Their new reality: You will not do as well as your parents. Life is a struggle to keep up. Even if you achieve something, you will live in fear of losing it. America is not your land: it belongs to the ultra-rich.
Much of Quart’s book highlights the mirror image of the downwardly mobile middle class Trump voters from economically strained regions like the Midwest who helped throw a monkey wrench into politics-as-usual. In her tour of American frustration, she talks to urbanites who lean liberal and didn’t expect to find themselves drowning in debt and disappointment. Like the falling-behind Trump voters, these people sense their status ripped away, their hopes dashed.
If climbing up the ladder of success is the great American story, slipping down it is the quintessential tragedy. It’s hard not to take it personally: the ranks of the Middle Precariat are filled with shame.
They are somebodies turning into nobodies.
And there signs that they are starting to revolt. If they do, they could make their own mark on the country’s political landscape.
The Broken Bourgeoisie
Quart’s book takes a sobering look at the newly unstable bourgeoisie, illustrating what happens when America’s off-the-rails inequality blasts over those who always believed they would end up winners.
There’s the Virginia accountant who forks over nearly 90% of her take home pay on care for her three kids; the Chicago adjunct professor with the disabled child who makes less than $24,000 a year; and the California business reporter who once focused on the financial hardships of others and now faces unemployment herself.
There are Uber-driving teachers and law school grads reviewing documents for $20 an hour—or less. Ivy Leaguers who live on food stamps.
Lacking unions, church communities and nearby close relatives to support them, the Middle Precariats are isolated and stranded. Their labor has sputtered into sporadic contingency: they make do with short-term contracts or shift work. (Despite the much-trumpeted low unemployment rate, the New York Times reportsthat jobs are often subpar, featuring little stability and security). Once upon a time, only the working poor took second jobs to stay afloat. Now the Middle Precariat has joined them.
Quart documents the desperate measures taken by people trying to keep up appearances, relying on 24/7 “extreme day care” to accommodate unpredictable schedules or cobbling together co-living arrangements to cut household costs. They strain to provide things like academic tutors and sports activities for their kids who must compete with the children of the wealthy. Deep down, they know that they probably can’t pass down the cultural and social class they once took for granted.
Quart cites a litany of grim statistics that measure the quality of their lives, like the fact that a middle-class existence is now 30% more expensive than it was twenty years ago, a period in which the price of health care and the cost of a four-year degree at a public college nearly doubled.
Squeezed is especially detailed on the plight of the female Middle Precariat, like those who have the effrontery to procreate or grow older. With the extra burdens of care work, pregnancy discrimination, inadequate family leave, and wage disparities, (not to mention sexual harassment, a subject not covered), women get double squeezed. For women of color, often lacking intergenerational wealth to ease the pain, make that a triple squeeze.
The Middle Precariat in middle age is not a pretty sight: without union protection or a reliable safety net they endure lost jobs, dwindled savings, and shattered identities. In one of the saddest chapters, Quart describes how the pluckiest try reinvent themselves in their 40s or 50s, enrolling in professional courses and certification programs that promise another shot at security, only to find that they’ve been scammed by greedy college marketers and deceptive self-help mavens who leave them more desperate than before.
Quart notes that even those making decent salaries in the United States now see themselves barred from the club of power and wealth. They may have illiquid assets like houses and retirement accounts, but they still see themselves as financially struggling. Earning $100,000 sounds marvelous until you’ve forked over half to housing and 30% to childcare. Each day is one bit of bad luck away from disaster.
“The spectacular success of the 0.1 percent, a tiny portion of society, shows just how stranded, stagnant, and impotent the current social system has made the middle class—even the 10 percent who are upper-middle class,” Quart writes.
Quart knows that the problems of those who seem relatively privileged compared many may not garner immediate sympathy. But she rightly notes that their stresses are a barometer for the concentration of extreme wealth in some American cities and the widening chasm between the very wealthy and everybody else.
The Dual Economy
The donor-fed establishment of both political parties could or would not see this coming, but some prescient economists have been sounding the alarm.
In his 2016 book The Vanishing Middle Class, MIT economist Peter Temin detailed how the U.S. has been breaking up into a “dual economy” over the last several decades, moving toward a model that is structured economically and politically more like a developing nation—a far cry from the post-war period when the American middle class thrived.
In dual economies, the rich and the rest part ways as the once-solid middle class begins to disappear. People are divided into separate worlds in the kinds of jobs they hold, the schools their kids attend, their health care, transportation, housing, and social networks—you name it. The tickets out of the bottom sector, like a diploma from a first-rate university, grow scarce. The people of the two realms become strangers.
French economist Thomas Picketty provided a stark formula for what happens capitalism is left unregulated in his 2015 bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It goes like this: when the rate of return on the investments of the wealthy exceeds the rate of growth in the overall economy, the rich get exponentially richer while everyone becomes poorer. In more sensible times, like the decades following WWII, that rule was mitigated by an American government that forced the rich pay their share of taxes, curbed the worst predations of businesses, and saw to it that roads, bridges, public transit, and schools were built and maintained.
But that’s all a fading memory. Under the influence of political money, politicians no longer seek a unified economy and society where the middle class can flourish. As Quart observes, the U.S. is the richest and also the most unequal country in the world, featuring the largest wealth inequality gap of the two hundred countries in the Global Wealth Report of 2015.
Who is to Blame?
Over and over, the people Quart interviews tend to blame themselves for their situation—if only they’d chosen a different career, lived in another city, maybe things wouldn’t have turned out this way. Sometimes they point the finger at robots and automation, though they arguably have much more to fear from the wealthy humans who own the robots.
But some are waking up to the fact it is the wealthy and their purchased politicians who have systematically and deliberately stripped them of power. Deprivations like paltry employee rights, inadequate childcare, ridiculously expensive health care, and non-existent retirement security didn’t just happen. Abstract words like deregulation and globalization become concrete: somebody actually did this to you by promoting policies that leave you high and dry.
As Quart indicates, understanding this is the first step to a change of consciousness, and her book is part of this shift.
Out of this consciousness, many individuals and organizations are working furiously and sometimes ingeniously to alter the negative trajectory of the Middle Precariat. Quart outlines proposals and developments like small-scale debt consolidation, student debt forgiveness, adequately subsidized day care, and non-traditional unions that could help.
America also has a track record of broad, fundamental solutions that have already proven to work. Universal basic income may sound attractive, but we already have a program that could improve the lot of the middle class if expanded: Social Security.
Right now, a worker stops having to pay Social Security tax on any earnings beyond $128,400—a number that is unreasonably low because the rich wish to keep it so. Just by raising that cap, we could the lower the retirement age so that Americans in their 60s would not have greet customers at Walmart. More opportunities would open up to younger workers.
The Middle Precariat could be forgiven for suspecting that the overlords of Silicon Valley may have something other than altruism in mind when they tout universal basic income. Epic tax evaders, they stand to benefit from pushing the responsibility for their low-paid workers and the inadequate safety net and public services that they helped create onto ordinary taxpayers.
Beyond basic income lies a basic fact: the American wealthy do not pay their share in taxes. In fact, American workers pay twice as muchin taxes as wealthy investors. That’s why infrastructure crumbles, schools deteriorate, and sane health care and childcare are not available.
Most Americans realize that inequality has to be challenged through the tax code: a 2017 Gallup pollshows that the majority think that the wealthy and corporations don’t pay enough. Politicians, of course, ignore this to please their donors.
And so the Middle Precariat, like the Trump voters, is getting fed up with them.
From Depressed to Energized
Quart astutely points out that income inequality is being written into the law of the land. Funded the efforts of billionaires like the Koch brothers, politicians have altered laws and constitutions across the country to cement the dual economy through everything from restricting voting rights to defunding public education.
Several Middle Precariats in Squeezed have turned to independent or renegade candidates like Bernie Sanders who offer broad, substantial programs like debt-free college and universal health care that address the fissures in their lives. They are listening to candidates who are not afraid to say that markets should work for human beings, not the other way around.
If Donald Trump’s political rise “can be understood as an expression of the gulf between middle-class citizens and America’s ruling classes,” as Quart observes, then the recent surge of non-establishment Democratic candidates, especially democratic socialists, may be the next phase of a middle class revolt.
Recent surprise victories in Pennsylvania and New York in the Democratic primaries by female candidates openly embracing democratic socialism, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who bested Democratic stalwart Joe Crowley by running for Congress on a platform of free Medicare and public college tuition for all, may not be the blip that establishment Democrats hope. In New York, democratic socialist Julia Salazar is looking to unseat long-time state senator Martin Dilan. Actress Cynthia Nixon, running against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, has just proclaimed herself a democratic socialist and promises to raise taxes on the rich and boost funding for public schools. Michelle Goldberg recently announced in the New York Times that “The Millenial Socialists are Coming,” indicating the intense dislike of traditional politics in urban centers. These young people do not think of things like debt-free college or paid family leave as radical: they see it done elsewhere in the world and don’t accept that it can’t be done in America.
Historically, the more affluent end of the middle class tends to identify with and support the wealthy. After all, they might join their ranks one day. But when this dream dies, the formerly secure may decide to throw their lot in with the rest of the Precariats. That’s when you have the chance for a real mass movement for change.
Of course, people have to recognize their common circumstances and fates. The urban denizens of New York and San Francisco have to see what they have in common with middle class Trump voters from the Rust Belt, as well as working class Americans and everybody else who is not ultra-rich.
If the growing ranks of Precariats can work together, maybe it won’t take a natural catastrophe or a war or violent social upheaval to change America’s unsustainable course of gross inequality. Because eventually, something has to give.
I think one crutial thing that has to change is the culture of extreme individualisation.
Professed as a right for individual freedom and empowerment, in reality it serves to suppress disobedience with shame. If you earn like shit — it’s gotta be because YOU are shit. Just try harder. Don’t you see those OTHER kids that did well!
Part of the blame is on New Age with it’s quazi-buddhist narrative: basically, everything is perfect, and if you don’t feel it that way, it’s because you are tainted with envy or weakness.
Thus what is in fact a heavily one-sided battle — is presented as a natural order of things.
I believe we need a new framework. A sort of mix of Marx and Freud: study of the subconscious of the social economy. The rich not just HAPPEN to be rich. They WANT to be rich. Which means that in some way they NEED others to be poor.
Of course, I’m generalizing. And some rich are just really good at what they do. These rich will indeed trickle down, they will increase the well-being of people. But there are others. People working in insurance and finance. And as their role in the economy grows — as does their role in politics, their power. They want to have more, while others would have less.
But behind it all are not rational thoughts, not efficiency, but psychological trauma, pain of the soul. Without addressing these matters, we will not be able to change the world.
I’m sorry if my thoughts are somewhat fragmented. It’s just something I’ve been thinking of a lot since I started reading NC, discovering MMT and heterodox approaches in general.
I enjoyed reading your thoughts, and completely agree with them all. :)
The problem is the perception the Democratic Party is reliable as a partner. The culture wasn’t a problem in 2008 when the Democratic candidate was perceived as wanting to raise taxes, pass universal health care, and end the wars.
====Part of the blame is on New Age with it’s quazi-buddhist narrative: basically, everything is perfect, and if you don’t feel it that way, it’s because you are tainted with envy or weakness.
Adam Curtis touched about this (and the 50’s/60’s “self-actualization movement) in his TV documentary “Century of Self.” if i recall correctly. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=century+of+self
That’s where I first heard of this theoretical link. I think that it’s flat out right and post-WWII psycho-babble has seeped into society in pernicious ways (along with everything else, breakdown of nuclear family, etc). Unfortunately, can’t prove it like Euclid.
“A sort of mix of Marx and Freud”– the “Frankfurt School” is a start, with the realization of “the culture industry” as force majeure in the “heavily one-sided battle.” And ditto recommendation of “The Century of the Self.”
There’s also Zizek.
Both good suggestions.
Responding to Sergey P:
I think one crucial thing that has to change is the culture of extreme individualisation.
There are really only two alternatives to individualism. There is Durkheim-ian “society,” in which we are all in this together – interdependent. I think this is still an appropriate lens for a lot of smaller cities and communities where people really do still know each other and everyone wants the community to thrive. And, of course, it is the only way to think about human society nested inside a finite Earth. But it can only work on a larger scale through mediating “institutions” or “associations.” All the evidence shows, consistent with the piece, that precariousness by itself weakens social institutions – people have less time and money to contribute to making them work well.
And then there is Marx-ian “class.” Which is to say, we are not all individuals but we are not all of one group. There are different groups with different interests and, not infrequently, the interests of different groups are opposed – what is good for one is bad for another – and if power is unequal between groups (either because some groups as groups have more power than others or because individuals with more power all have the same group affinity), then powerful groups will use that power to oppress others. In that case, the only remedy is to try to systematically empower the weak and/or disempower the strong. This also requires collective action – institutions, associations, government – and it is again noted that our collective institutions, most notably unions, have been seriously weakened in the last 40-60 years.
The real world doesn’t always fit into neat categories. Trump’s America First is an appeal to the “society” of USAmerica. Maybe there will be some improvements for working people. But the argument in the piece, perhaps not as clearly stated as I would like, is that the interests of the (former) middle class – as a class – have diverged from the interests of the upper class. Changing that equation requires collective action.
maybe they want to be rich, for some with vast quantities of money, their riches DO become a desire for power. But I don’t know people working in insurance and finance really? Some of those are just middle class themselves and caught in the same game as everyone, so more Marx than Freud, capitalism compels certain behaviors. It does for small business owners with employees as well, and they are often at first glance less likable people than those those working in insurance and finance, their abuse of employees is out in the open afterall, but they HAVE TO focus on accumulating money all the time, the economic system compels it.
This is the missing link: Nathaniel Brandon (aka Nathan Blumenthal) was Any Rand’s heir apparent and her lover during the writing of “Atlas Shrugged” (both married to others at the time and the spouses were forced to accept the situation). They had a falling out because he eventually had another lover. Brandon was a psychologist, and a big promoter of “self esteem”.
Naturally one must quote the great Frank Herbert from his novel Dune:
“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”
Or shorter: Follow the money.
‘We already have a program that could improve the lot of the middle class if expanded: Social Security.’
Never mind expanding it — even the existing Social Security program is less than 20% funded, headed for zero in 2034 according to its trustees. Scandalously, these trustees owe no fiduciary duty to beneficiaries. Old Frank wanted pensioners to be forever dependent on his D party. How did that work out for us?
Take a look at the transmittal letter for the 2018 trustees report, released last month. Two public trustee positions are “VACANT,” just as they were in last year’s transmittal letter:
Just above these blank spaces is the signature of one Nancy Berryhill, “Acting Commissioner of Social Security.” But wait —
By June 5th, Berryhill was still impersonating the Acting Commissioner, legally or not.
Summing up, even the trustees’ one-page transmittal letter shows that Social Security is treated as a total and complete Third World joke by the US federal government.
Yeah, yeah. Gubmint can’t do nuthin’ rite. How about we take our government back from the plutocrats and set SS on solid footing again. There are no impediments other than the will of the people to use our power. Now that the Boomers are moving off all sorts of things, like ‘thinking’, and ‘logic’, will become prevalent again.
Correct, then the system will eventually be totally reliant on taxes coming in. According to 2011 OASDI Trustees Report
The benefits are never going to go completely away, the benefits will decrease if nothing is done. Things can be done to change this, such as an increasing the the cap on earnings, raising new revenues, etc. This is not exactly an “end of the world” scenario for SSI.
Also, no one complained when the excess SSI tax collected “Social security trust fund” was used to keep interest rates down by purchasing Government bonds.
The whole tax angle is a complete red herring. Raising the cap is not the answer. FICA is “the most regressive tax” the country imposes. Eliminating FICA altogether, doing away with the “trust fund” and the pretense that SS is not the government taking care of it’s elderly citizens but is workers taking care of themselves, is the answer. If the emphasis in Quart’s book on the rise of a new democratic socialism means anything, it means reconciling with the notion that it is OK for the government to take measures to ensure the welfare of the people. Pay-as-you-go SS can become simply the re-assumption of our collective responsibility to take care of our own, as a society, not as individuals.
I would be fine with that if I could trust the Federal government to do the right thing. The problem is that we have too many people invested in the system, and I don’t trust the Federal government to not screw people over in a new system. You know what will happen, they will set up a two tiered system where people over a certain age will keep their benefits, and the new people will get a system that is completely crapified or means tested.
Well-put…The only way to eliminate the constant refrain of “but SS is (insert blithering comment on entitlement spending), is to shift resources to people rather than armies for the SuperRich.
Yeah, more Butter–Less Guns!
(Now how do we stop the media hysteria about those big,bad Enemies—Russia?!)
So we should just ignore the fact that our own Govt has “borrowed” $2.8 Trillion, at least, from the SS Trust Fund so far and can’t (won’t) pay it back?
This “borrowing” should be illegal and I believe that “Old Frank” would be rolling in his grave if he knew that would happen.
And I sincerely doubt his intentions were to get SS on the books in order to keep us beholden to the Dem Party. And if that were true it is obvious that his party doesn’t agree. If they did they wouldn’t be assisting in gutting the program.
The whole concept of creating and maintaining a multi-trillion dollar “trust fund” was irrevocably flawed. When the surplus payroll taxes were “invested” in government bonds, they entered the government’s general fund and were promptly spent. The money is gone. That’s why it’s on the books as a debt owed to the Social Security administration. There are no actual assets behind the fund. It’s just one part of the government owing money to another part of the government.
However, what would the alternative have been? Investing in the crap shoot known as the US stock market? No thanks. Or setting the funds aside in a bank account, where they would cease circulating through the economy? That wouldn’t have worked either, as all dollars in circulation would have eventually ended up there, causing massive deflation.
None of these are workable. We should have gone on a strictly pay-as-you-go basis. If payroll taxes generated more revenue than was necessary, we should have cut payroll taxes and/or raised benefits. And if they fall short, we should raise payroll taxes and/or cut benefits.
Today, we cover about 95% of benefits with payroll taxes. The remainder comes from “trust fund redemptions”, where general fund monies are given to the SSA to cover the shortfall. Given that our government is already running a deficit, this means more borrowing (or money-printing, depending on how you look at things).
When the “trust fund” is depleted, but SSA will lack the legal authority to claim any more general fund monies, but it would be quite easy for Congress to change the rules to simply state that “any SSA shortfall will be covered by the general fund”. And I predict they will do so in 2034, as it would take less than a month of constituents complaining about reduced benefits to force even the strictest of deficit hawks to cave.
Or maybe they’ll get creative and instead raise rates on the interest that the trust fund earns. Right now it’s a 3% rate, but if Congress were to double or triple it, the trust fund would last much longer. [As would the debt owed to the SSA.] Heck, if they multiplied the interest rate by a factor of 11, then they could theoretically dispense with payroll taxes entirely. Right?
Or restoring the missing taxes against the Upper Class and the Overclass.
A lot of the Our SS Trust Fund money was transferred to the Upper Class and the Over Class through the device of “tax cuts”. Tax “counter-cuts” would be the way to get that money back for redeeming and repaying the SS Trust Fund Treasury debt instruments.
Yes, SS has contributed NOT ONE PENNY to the deficit and the reason it accumulated a surplus was so people could collect later. Now, they want to say that old surplus shouldn’t count. That’s thievery.
…tired old tripe and how much is the US military funded? I can answer that for you. It’s ZERO. 0% funded! Take your heterodox BS to a bunch of freshman impressionables – it is only tolerated here because you are a fine writer and interesting as hell and know almost all there is about economic liberalism.
Wow. So let’s go full SSCodex for a bit and push this trend out to the limit.
While the unwashed masses remain a market for big Ag, big Pharma, big Auto, big (online) Retail, and a few others, it seems like the predatory ‘fund’ segment of the FIRE elite has moved on to devouring larger prey (capitalist autophagy?). The unbankable precariat are beneath their notice now, like pennies on the sidewalk.
So in that case, the 1% of the 0.1% has evolved beyond ‘exploitation’ in any Marxist sense. It is now indifferent to the very life or death of the precariat, at home or abroad, still less their security or advancement. It needs them neither for consuming nor producing, nor for building ziggurats.
(Just so long as the pitchforks aren’t out – but that’s what the credentialed minion 20% is for. And drones).
Here Disposables, have some more plastic and painkillers. Be assured the Alphas will be live tweeting the Pandemic, or Chicxulub 2.0, from Elon’s luxury robot-serviced survival capsules (oh, you thought those were for use on Mars? Silly rabble!)
It’s like that DKs mosh pit classic: “Uncounted millions whisked away / the rich will have more room to play”
[I exaggerate, of course, for illustration. Slightly.]
I think you can extend this analysis to the current U.K. Conservative Party. Commentators have started to notice that the Brexiteer wing of the party seems completely impervious to claims Brexit will harm the economy. Are the Tories no longer the natural party of British business, they ask?
Using your logic, we can say that a fund-interest-dominated Tory party simply has no interest in or need for the “ordinary” bits of the British business community anymore. What it wants are shorting and raiding opportunities, and from that vantage point a catastrophic Brexit is very attractive. Put these interests in coalition with a voter base largely living on guaranteed incomes and retirement funds of one sort or another and you have the surreal spectacle of an entire governing party and its supporters who are no longer anchored to the “real” economy at all. Yes, it’s an exaggeration but it’s an exaggeration that explains a few things, I think.
You both need to read the 2005 leaked Citigroup “plutonomy memo”, if you haven’t yet. Very bright minds called it a decade ago, that the global economy isn’t even an economy any longer in any traditional sense. This is part one: https://delong.typepad.com/plutonomy-1.pdf
“Plutonomy” sounds like some nasal epithet out of a Goebbels speech: “die Plutonomisten und Bolshewisten!“
Great link. From page one, Citigroup thinks the global imbalance is a great opportunity. Nothing new here. For years I’ve been reading about stock and futures manipulations–and vulture capitalists–that cause people to die or kill themselves. The rich don’t care; they see it as a way to make more money. And then you wonder why I’ve been talking revolution for years as well?
Jackpot design engineering.
Jackpot LIHOP HIHOP MIHOP.
“Who is to Blame?”
Answer: Add the US wasting its blood and cash meddling in other countries’ affairs. “honest friendship with all nations-entangling alliances with none.” bueller…?
Ironic as multilateralist/globalist/fan of US interventions George Soros supposedly provided some of the seed money for the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
I don’t think Soros is diabolical or sadistic. He’s just, let’s say, “neurologically eccentric” and unimaginably wealthy.
I just want to not die earlier than necessary because I can’t afford health care. I’d also like to stop worrying that I’ll spend my golden years homeless and starving because of some disaster headed my way. I gave up on status a long time ago, and am one of those mentioned who has little pity for the top 10%.
if one makes it to their golden years that is, I mean there are plenty of ways to end up homeless and starving before then if one has some time yet …
Sounds like a good book. I shall have to pick it up from my library, since buying new books is a stretch.
Nearly all income growth in the United States since the 1970s has gone into income obtained by the rich other than wages and salaries, like capital gains, stock options, dividends, partnership distributions, etc. To capture overall economic growth to which the entire society has contributed, Social Security benefits should be tied to economic growth, smoothed for the business cycle. If people believe benefit increases require tax increases, the tax should be applied to all earnings, not just salary/wages. Raising the $128,400 cap on income subject to SS taxes would thus increase taxes on the lower rungs of the upper middle class but not really address the problem.
I apologise in advance for being blunt and oversimplifying the matter, but at the end of the day, (in my very humble and possibly uninformed opinion) nothing short of a mass beheading would work. The 0.1% doesn’t really seem, uh, willing to let go of their often ill-gotten billions, and when they do (i.e. charities and such), they often end up being some kind of scam. I refuse to believe that the Zuckerberg-types operate their foundations out of genuine philanthropy. Acquisitions and mergers like Disney buying Fox or Bayer gobbling up Monsanto don’t contribute anything to the well-being of the 99% either, and I think that’s and understatement.
If there’s going to be some kind of revolution, it needs to happen before the logical conclusion of rampaging capitalism. the OCP-type megacorp with its own private army. And, if there indeed is a revolution, what’s next?
Case in point: as a public school teacher who has been opposing so-called education reform for two decades, I can assure you that the “venture/vulture philanthropy” model that infests the education world has absolutely nothing to do with improving education, and everything to do with busting the teachers unions, privatizing the schools and turning them into drilling grounds for training young people to accept the subordination, surveillance, tedium and absurdity that awaits them in the workplace. For those lucky enough to have jobs.
As a result of this phenomena, I periodically suggest a new term on the education blogs I post on: “Malanthropy:” the process of of using tax exempt, publicly subsidized entities to directly and indirectly support your financial and political interests, but which are harmful to the public good”
Clear and compelling analysis, although still a little MMT challenged. About to turn 70, I vividly remember living through a sudden sea change in American capitalism. In the late 1970s/early 80s, whatever undercurrents of patriotism and humanitarianism that remained within the postwar economy (and had opened the space for the middle class) evaporated, and almost overnight we were living in a culture without any sense of balance or proportion, a virulent and violent mindset that maxed out everything and knew not the meaning of enough. Not only the business world but also the personal world was infected by this virus, as ordinary people no longer dreamed of achieving a healthy and stable family life but rather became hellbent to “succeed” and get rich. Empathy, compassion, and commitment to social justice was no longer cool, giving way to self-interest and self-promotion as the new “virtues.” Men, of course, led the way in this devolution, but there was a time in the 90s when almost every other woman I knew was a real estate agent. I touched upon a small male-oriented piece of this social devolution in an essay I wrote several years ago: Would Paladin Have Shot Bin Laden? For those who might be intrigued, here’s the link:
What was needed was a Wyatt Earp, not a Paladin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgvxu8QY01s). His standard procedure in the old West was to use his Colt revolver to pistol-whip an offender. Short, sharp and effective.
But then again there was no way that Bin Laden was ever going to be taken prisoner. That bit on his resume as being a contractor for the CIA was a bit embarrassing after all.
I remember the 50’s and even under the hue of bright eyes saw that people were just as hell bent to ‘get ahead’ in their careers as now and that competing with ‘the Joneses’ in every crude way imaginable was the rage.
Perhaps more precise to say that in the early ’80s, Capitalism reached a tipping point where gravity overcame thrust and virtues with latent vice became vices with the optics of virtue. That and the fact that the right actors always seem available -as if out of thin air, but in reality very much part of cause and effect – for a given state of entropy.
No doubt what was somewhat latent in postwar American capitalism became obscenely blatant in or around the Reagan era. It was all there before, of course, in former times like the Gilded Age. But in the midsize, now rustbelt city I grew up in and continue to live in, the upper middle class of my childhood and youth–the doctors, lawyers, corporate exec’s, etc.–lived a few blocks away from my working class neighborhood, had nicer homes, drove caddys instead of chevys, and so forth, but their kids went to school with us working class kids, went to the same movies and dances, hung out in the same places, and all of us, generally, young and old, lived in essentially the same world. For example, my uncle, a lawyer, made maybe 3 times what my dad, a factory clerk, made. THAT was the split between the middle and upper middle class back then, at least in a fairly typical Midwestern city. THAT was what drastically and suddenly changed in the late 70s/early 80s and has only intensified thereafter.
Terrific article, but with so many “missing” words (words left out)–too many to list, gratis–you make it a serious challenge to consider sharing with literate friends on social media. Seriously, doesn’t anyone re-read their work before “posting?”
Well, at least the missing words in this piece don’t make sentences unintelligible. I’ve seen that happen before.
It’s such a shame for authors to put so much work time and effort into their articles, but then allow the lack of an editor or final read-through to tarnish the entire work.
If they’re so literate, they can fill in the missing words as the NC commentariat has apparently done with no difficulty.
The substance is well worth sharing, and widely.
One thing that strikes me – a generation ago the talking-point robots of the right could decry “socialized medicine” and all those people supposedly dying while waiting for an operation in foreign, “socialized medicine” places. And they could largely get away with it because relatively few people had personal acquaintances outside their own area.
But now, anyone active in social media probably can interact freely with people all over the world and appreciate how pathetic things really are in the US.
I read on a sports-related forum where an English guy had been watching Breaking Bad and commented offhand that he was amazed at the cost of medical treatment for Mr. White. This turned into a discussion between Brits and Yanks about the NHS. And person after person chimed in “yeah, NHS is not perfect but this kind of thing could never happen here.” And you saw the Americans – “yeah, our health care system really is a disgrace.”
I’m not a big fan of the social media Borg in general, but here at least seems to be a good effect. It might over time enable more people to wake up as to how jacked up certain things are here.
I’d like to declare us a completely divided, conquered people.
In the last few weeks I’ve visited with many old friends all of them suffering in silence. Each and every one falling further behind, on the brink of disaster, if not already there. No matter their credentials, many highly credentialed with multiple degrees and or highly experienced in several fields. All with ridiculously high work ethics. All feel maintaining personal integrity is costing them an ability to ‘get ahead’.
Many of these friends have multiple jobs, no debt, no car payment, some have insurance which is killing them, medical bills which bury them if they ever have so much as basic health issues, and they are thrifty, from the clothes they wear to the amount of rent they commit themselves. And yet ‘staying afloat’, is but a dream trumped by guilt and isolationism.
I often joke with my fellow country neighbors that it costs a hundred bucks to simply leave the house. It’s not a joke anymore. At this point those still fighting for a paltry 15.00 should include a hundred dollar per day walk out your front door per diem.
A couple months back I gave my camper to an old acquaintance who had no record, found himself homeless after being falsely accused of a crime and locked up for two months. And another friend with full time management position, just gave up her apartment to move into a tent in another friends back yard. Both of these people are bright, hard working, mid forties, white, family peeps with great children. The very kind this article addresses.
The noose tightens and people are committing desperate acts. There is no solidarity. No vision of a way out of this.
Watch a ten dollar parking ticket bring a grown man to terror in their eyes. And he brought in a thousand bucks last week, but has been texting his landlord about past due rent all afternoon.
I feel like I’m on the brink of a million episodes of “Falling Down“.
Indeed. But as consciousness is raised as to the real causes (not personal failure, not robots taking over), hopefully solidarity will grow.
Wonderful article, definitely want to read the book.
I don’t think the 0.1% wanted to build a society like this, it is just the way the math works. Somewhere around 1980 the integrity of the US was lost and it became possible for the owning class to divorce themselves from their neighbors and arbitrage labor around the world. Computers and telecommunications made it possible to manage a global supply chain and Republicans changed the tax rules to make it easier to shut down businesses and move them overseas.
A different way to view this: as the wealthy earn profits they can use some of their cash to modify the rules to their benefit. Then they gain more cash which allows them to influence voters and politicians to modify the rules even more in their favor.
If people organized they could change the rules in their favor, but that rarely happens. We used to have unions (imperfect though they were) which lobbied for the working class.
I think the 1980s was when I found out my wealthy cousins, who owned a clothing factory in Georgia, had moved it to–get ready for this–Borneo! And of course they are Republicans.
The collective decisions to pull up the drawbridge, and a lot middle-class people have supported these decisions are the major reason why there is a housing crisis and higher-education is so expensive.
A lot of people, especially middle-class people, come out with pitchforks every time a new housing development is proposed, screaming about how they don’t want “those people” living near them and will vehemently oppose anything that isn’t single-family homes which has resulted in the housing supply lagging behind demand, thus affordability issues.
These same people over the years have decided that tax-cuts are more important than adequately funding higher education, so higher education has become a lot more expensive as state support has dwindled.
As the saying goes you made you bed, now you get to sleep in it. Unfortunately so does the younger generation who may not have anything to do with the horrible decision making of the past.
The article stated Americans are “Petrified of being pushed aside by robots”.
Maybe I associate with the wrong people, but I don’t know any who fear being pushed aside by robots.
But I do know of someone who was being laid off from a tech firm and was finding his job moved overseas.
The deal management presented was, “you can leave now, with your severance package, or get two more weeks pay by training your replacement who will be visiting from overseas.”
He trained the new worker for the two weeks.
The American worker is being hit, not by robots, but by outsourcing to other countries and by in-sourcing of labor from other countries.
Robots are expensive and will be avoided if a human can do the job cheaply enough.
That the article brings “fear of robots” into the discussion is a tell that the writer does not want to mention that it is the competition from others in the world wide labor force that depress USA wages.
In the USA, we are witnessing labor arbitrage encouraged by both parties and much of the media as they push USA wages toward world wide levels.
But not for the elite wage earners who gain from this system.
Agreed. The kind of pink collar and barely white collar employees this piece was focused on are not presently threatened by “robots”. They are threatened by outsourcing and wage arbitrage.
That the article brings “fear of robots” into the discussion is a tell that the writer does not want to mention that it is the competition from others in the world wide labor force that depress USA wages.
You may have a point there, and you are spot on that the vast bulk of job-loss is due to job migration and import of cheaper labor. But regardless of the writer’s intent or simple laziness, don’t be too fast to poo-poo the effect of Robots.
One problem is that we tend to measure job loss and gain without reference to the actual job loosers and the fact that re-training for them may well be impossible or completely ineffective or, at the very minimum, often extremely painful. So while automation may provide as many new jobs as it takes away old ones, that is cold comfort indeed to the worker who gets left behind.
Another, is that the fear of massive job loss to Robots is almost certainly warranted even if not yet fully materialized.
When the “Steel Wave” of robot workers comes ashore, I’ll be near the head of the queue to join the “Robo Luddites.” If the owners of the robot hordes won’t pay a fair share of the costs of their mechanominions worker displacement activities, then they should be made to pay an equivalent share in heightened “Production Facility Security Costs.” Ford Motors and the River Rouge plant strike comes to mind.
The robots are going to be shooting back…
No one ever said that it would be easy.
As expensive as robots are today, I’d rather expect ‘Cybernauts’ to do the shooting ‘back.’
It’d be great to be right there with you on that fateful day, Ambrit… :-) (And I’ve even got my gun with the little white flag that pops out and has “Bang!” written on it, all oiled up and ready to go). I suspect however that it will be a silent D Day that probably took place some time ago.
Hard Briexit looks to be baked in the cake
Global Warming disaster looks to be baked in the cake
Water wars look to be baked in the cake.
Massive impoverishment in developed and so called third world nations alike and insane ‘last gasp’ looting looks to be baked in the cake
Why would all manner of robots, the ones too tiny to see along with human looking ones and giant factories that are in reality themselves robots be the exception?
We’d be facing robots, so that flag would have to go “Bang” in binary code. (Might even work. While they are trying to decipher the flag, we can switch their tubes of graphite lubricant with tubes of carborundum.)
When the technologically capable humans have all died off, will the robots perish likewise for lack of programmers?
“Robots” are software programs, do-it-yourself online appointments, voice recognition, “press 1 now.” What’s the point of retraining? All you’re good for is to make sure the plug is in the wall.
isn’t self checkout a sign robots are taking at least some jobs (not really middle class unless unionized but ..), isn’t the automation of manufacturing?
The act of training the overseas replacement could become an act of sabotage. Think of the ways that one could train the replacement to do the job incorrectly, more slowly than necessary, or not at all.
Sabotage by miss-training.
In a lot of cases that doesn’t require much ‘intentional’ effort. But the lure of cheap labor seems to conquer all. I’ve seen software companies take loss after loss on off-shore development team screw ups until they finally get it right. I even saw one such company go out of business trying rather than just calling it quits and going back to what was left of their core developers.
I’m afraid of being replaced by robots, so now you know one :)
My current occupation is routinely included at the top of lists of ‘jobs in danger of being replaced by robots’. In fact, my company assists the very software companies that would like to do away with my profession in marketing their wares. I don’t really appreciate the irony of it at all. But I do my little bit to throw a wrench in the works every day when I can!
Robots come in all shapes and sizes.
Amazon AWS is quickly putting a lot of skilled techies out of work. Amazon self-checking out stores will be putting a lot of cashiers out of work. Self driving trucks will be putting a lot of truck drivers out of work. Its already happening.
AWS still requires some techies but yes it takes some tasks off Database Administrators (network people also it seems to me) therefore reducing the number of full time people needed. It doesn’t go to zero, but it’s less.
Meanwhile if retail stops needing people we are truly screwed because retail is where people can still get a (low paying) job when everything else is gone.
Boycotting the robo-checker becomes an act of passive obstruction. Feigning surprise at “finding” only robo-checkers and leaving one’s full cart un-put-back-away in protest can be the kind of creative sabotage that forces the store to pay real people to put stuff back away. Putting it back away yourself and putting everything in the wrong places might make even more work for human correcters of your re-stocking mistakes. Enough of this could either force the store-in-question to cancel robo-checkers or if they won’t cancel robo-checkers . . . force them to go extinct.
Going through the human-checker line becomes an act of human-worker support and solidarity. If stores impose a ” $1.00 checker fee” per trip through the line, accepting and paying that charge to go through the live-checker line becomes an act of horn-tootable solidarity-virtue.
and many people just use automatic checkout as an excuse to shoplift – which come to think of it is even more of a sabotage, but not without risks.
There are studies that more jobs have been lost to outsourcing and automation than immigration. So I don’t think the studies are actually with you that robots don’t matter. Matter to some narrow income group or class I don’t know, but matter broadly to those working for a living they do.
As I approach 40, having only realized in recent years that the constant soul-ache I’ve lived with my whole life is not some inherent flaw in my being, but a symptom of a deeply ill society, I desperately wish I could share in the glimmer of hope at the end of this post.
But I cannot. What drives me to despair is not the fragile, corrupt, and unsustainable social/political/economic system we’re inheriting; nor is it the poisoned and increasingly harsh planet, nor the often silent epidemic of mental and emotional anguish that prevents so many of us from becoming our best selves. I retain great faith in the resilience and potential of the human spirit. And contrary to the stereotypes, I think my generation and those who have come after are often more intellectually and emotionally mature than our parents and grandparents. At the very least, we have a powerful sense of irony and highly tuned BS detectors.
What drives me to despair is so pathetically prosaic that I want to laugh and cry all at once as I type this. To put it as simply as I know how, a core function of all functional human societies is apprenticeship, by which I mean the basic process whereby deep knowledge and skills are transferred from the old to the young, where tensions between tradition and change are contested and resolved, and where the fundamental human need to develop a sense of oneself as a unique and valuable part of a community can flourish.
We have been commodified since before we were even born, to the point where opportunities for what Lave and Wenger would call “legitimate peripheral participation” in the kinds of work that yield real, humane, benefits to our communities are scant to nonexistent for most of us. Something has gone deeply awry in this core social function at the worst possible time in human history.
I was born with the 80s, and shortly thereafter I was deemed to be someone with unusually high potential. Had I been born a few decades earlier, I would have been snatched up in my teens or early 20s by persons and institutions, and offered long-term security and real opportunities to do real work in exchange for my commitment and efforts to carry on a legacy with deep roots and meaningful history.
But I was a child of the 80s, so what was I offered? Education, education, and more education, in exchange for the promise of, someday, a “good jawb.” I was very good at this education, so I learned that the most valuable qualities a person can have are unquestioning deference, conformity, and the ability to produce nauseatingly superficial performances on demand by which I would be judged inferior or superior to my peers.
Eventually I got a good jawb (though somehow, someway, I was not only still quite poor, but a debt-slave too, primarily because I refused to enter professions that struck me as either quite obviously evil – e.g. finance – or were good but would occupy all of my time and energy and then some for at least a few decades – e.g. medicine).
I dove into this jawb with much enthusiasm and ambition. My bosses and coworkers treated me like a rube for this. As I became saddled with more and more responsibilities outside of my job description, and which rightly belonged to people making more than triple my salary (and who frequently lacked very basic competencies in spite of their impressive looking resumes); as it slowly dawned on me that those in my field did not want to actually help people, but to convince others (i.e. people with money) that they were noble helpers while doing as little actual work as possible; and as I started feeling every day like the one person who doesn’t get the joke, I became frustrated and, quite professionally, began to advocate for compensation and authority commensurate with the responsibilities I’d been given.
This was a mistake, apparently, because there is nothing more threatening to a complacent and incompetent gang of managerial types than someone who is both capable and knows their worth. So I was stuck in a metaphorical closet and condescended to at every opportunity. (There was one exception worth noting: the most capable person in the organization tried to take me under her wing, but she was quite old a relic of a previous generation, and died a few months into my tenure).
Still naïve and idealistic, rinsed and repeated in a few jobs, until I learned that real financial success in a field that didn’t require me to work 80 hours a week 50-52 weeks a year required developing my ability to BS and take advantage of other people. Some quirk of my psychology means doing those things creates an irresistible urge in me to slowly poison myself with alcohol and tobacco.
So I took out more debt and got more education, so I could become an educator, of course. Too late, I learned that becoming an educator meant not only financial sacrifice, which I could bear (provided I not produce offspring, anyhow), but social condescension and about as much autonomy as an assembly line worker in a Tesla plant, which I could not bear. Indeed, few things invite institutional wrath in merica more than attempts to grant a meaningful and empowering education to young people (i.e. one that values other things more than compliance and conformity).
So here I am, nearing 50, broke, broken, indebted, addicted, and alienated, writing an excessively long and tardy comment to the only place where I feel real community and comradeship, even when I only lurk. I’m good at several things, but I am not exceptional at any one thing of real social value. I have not spent my last decade and a half cutting my teeth in the nitty gritty and learning anything that makes me not expendable. I think many of us feel that way: expendable. Because we know we are, and those of us who are not are often among the most amoral, shallow, self-absorbed, and sycophantic of our generation.
As I’ve closely followed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s remarkable rise, I keep thinking of another uniquely talented politician elected to the HOR at age 28: Lyndon Baines Johnson. Over the next 30 years of his life, he became the most brilliantly, ruthlessly effective politician of a generation. But how? Well, he had Sam Rayburn and Richard Russell, among others, to show him the ropes, watch his back, and enable his rise – taking the risk that he would (as he did) eventually stab them in the back and take their power. How will AOC’s experience compare? Whatever it is, she won’t have people like Rayburn and Russell to guide her, because people like that no longer serve as our representatives (I know, they weren’t great people, and Bernie is very skilled and experienced, and may mentor her, but his has been a career at the margins. Rayburn and Russell were among the most powerful people in the world for much of their adult lives.)
We live in an age where our very lives are based on extraordinarily fragile and complex systems. How can we truly reform those systems into something better without burning the house down? We don’t know. Sure, many of us know in the abstract, but we, for the most part, lack the deep institutional knowledge of what is that would be necessary to not only build something better, but to keep the ship afloat during the transition.
In any case, no-one can truly predict the future, and humanity is nothing if not full of surprises. Yet hope, for me these days, seems a privilege of a bygone age.
thank you funemployed, perceptive
Sympathies from a fellow traveler – your experience sounds similar to mine. I’m a little older and in my 20s I avoided getting a ‘real’ job for all the reasons you describe. When I hit my 30s and saw what some of the guys who had been hanging out in the bar too long looked like, and decided I ought to at least try it and see how it would go.
Turns out my 20 year old self had been right.
“Some quirk of my psychology means doing those things creates an irresistible urge in me to slowly poison myself with alcohol and tobacco.”
I think those things and drugs are conscience oblivators. Try gardening. Touch the earth. Grow actual food. Not hemp. Back away from the education racket.
Good luck. Quit the poison.
Gayle . . . when you say “conscience” obliviators . . . do you mean “consciousness” obliviators? As in “awareness” obliviators or “pain dullers”? Is that what you meant to mean?
That was a wonderful post, very moving, thank you. These kind of testimonies are very important because they show the real human cost of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is truly a death cult. Please find an alternative to alcohol. Music, art, nature, etc.
Thank you for sharing your compelling story. As someone who could be your mother, it is painful to me not only that this is your experience, but that you are so acutely aware of it. No blinders. Hence, I guess, the need for alcohol.
You write beautifully. Hope is hard to come by sometimes.
At least you are self aware. Most people are not.
As for the Ship of Status, let it sink. Find a lifeboat where you feel comfortable and batten down for the Roaring (20)40s yet to come. Once you find something to work for, the bad habits will lose much of their hold on you. As long as you don’t slide into alcoholism, you have a chance.
What a remarkable comment. Your feelings and experiences are similar to mine, yet you’ve expressed yourself so much more beautifully than I ever could. Thanks for this.
Life was kinder just 40 years ago, not perfect but way more mellow than it is today. Kids were listening to Peter Frampton and Stevie Wonder, not punk, grunge, rap and industrial music. What changed? Neoliberalism, the economic policy that is private sector “free market” driven, giving the owners of capital free, unfettered reign. Created by libertarians like Fredrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, they sold it to the nation but failed to mention that little peccadillo about how privatization of government would usher in economic fascism.
“An extreme form of laissez-faire individualism that developed in the writings of Hayek, Friedman and Nozick they are also referred to as libertarians. They draw on the natural rights tradition of John Locke and champion’s full autonomy and freedom of the individual.”
What they meant was ECONOMIC freedom. They despise social freedom (democracy) because civil, labor, health, food safety, etc., rights and environmental protections put limits on their profits.
The “maximizing shareholder value” myth turns people into psychopaths. The entire neoliberal economic policy of the past 40 years is based on the false assumption that self-interest is the driving evolution of humanity. We’re not all psychopaths, turns out. We’re social beings that have mainly used cooperation to get us through these thousands of years of existence.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting government to protect the public sector from predatory capitalists. Otherwise, society’s value system turns upside down… sick people are more valued than healthy… violent are more valued to fill up the prison factories… war becomes a permanent business… a filthy, toxic planet is good for the oil industry… a corporate governance with no respect for rights or environmental protections is the best capitalism can offer?
Thanks, but no thanks.
The easily manipulated right are getting the full assault. “Run for your lives! The democratic socialists want to use the government bank for everyone, not just the 1%!! They understand how the economy really works and see through our lies!! Before you know it, everyone will be enjoying a better quality of life! AAAAGHHH!!”
Even the IMF is getting a scolding for being so out-of-touch with reality. Isn’t economics supposed to factor in conscience?
“If the IMF is to shake its image as an inward-looking, out-of-touch boys club, it needs to start taking the issue seriously. The effect of the male dominance in macroeconomics can be seen in the policy direction of the organisation: female economists are more likely to be in favour of Government-backed redistribution measures than their male counterparts.
Of course, the parochial way in which economics is perceived by the IMF, as nothing more than the application of mathematical models, is nothing new. In fact, this is how mainstream economics frequently is taught in universities all over the world. Is it any wonder that the IMF has turned out as it is?”
Michael Hudson, as usual, was right:
“Economics students are forced to spend so much time with this complex calculus so that they can go to work on Wall St. that there’s no room in the course curriculum for the history of economic thought.
So all they know about Adam Smith is what they hear on CNN news or other mass media that are a travesty of what these people really said and if you don’t read the history of economic thought, you’d think there’s only one way of looking at the world and that’s the way the mass media promote things and it’s a propagandistic, Orwellian way.
The whole economic vocabulary is to cover up what’s really happening and to make people think that the economy is getting richer while the reality is they’re getting poorer and only the top is getting richer and they can only get rich as long as the middle class and the working class don’t realize the scam that’s being pulled off on them.”
Unfettered Fire and funemployed: deeply appreciate your lengthy and heartfelt posts. It’s a terribly small thing, but I have a suggestion to make that always helps me to feel a bit better about things…or should I say to feel a bit better about the possibility of things. If you’re game, and haven’t already done so, search for the following free online book: “Equality” by Edward Bellamy. Then do no more than read the introduction and first chapter (and slightly into the second) to absorb by far the finest Socratic dialogue ever written about capitalism, socialism, and the only nonviolent way to move from the former to the latter–a way wide open to us, theoretically, right now. I know that’s a hell of a qualifier.
Why do modern intellectuals insist on inventing euphemisms for already known definitions? The middle precariat is merely another term for the petty bourgeoisie. While they may have possessed economic benefits like pensions and owned minuscule amounts of financial assets they were never the dominant ruling class. Their socioeconomic status was always closer in their livelihoods to the working class. After the working class was effectively being dismantled starting in the 1970s, it has become the petty bourgeoisie’s turn to be systematically impoverished.
This is the primary economic development of our era of late capitalism. The question is, what does it mean to be American if this country is no longer a land of opportunity?
Because the ‘known definitions’ do not apply anymore.
The middle has more in common with those below than those above. And here is the scary reason: everyone is to be preyed upon by the wealth extractors who dominate our politics/economy — everyone. There is no social or educational allegieance, there is only a resource to be ruthlessly plundered, people and their ability to earn and secure.
Right. It’s hardly a euphemism. The Middle Precariat are the people in the 9.9% who will not be part of the 8.9%.
The so-called precariat lacks any sense of class consciousness and as a consequence are incapable of any kind of solidarity. Nor do they perceive any predatory behavior in the economic system. If the article is to be believed they blame themselves for their plight. These traits which include the admiration and imitation of the rich are the hallmarks of the petty bourgeoisie.
This disagreement over semantics is an example of the shallowness and superficiality of new ideas. Marx already predicted that they’d be unceremoniously thrown into the underclass in later stages of economic development at any rate.
thanks for this article.
The BigMedia & BigPols ignore the Type 1 Overqualified Underemployed cohort. Perhaps hopefully someone like the new Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will discuss it, her recently being of this cohort as an economist by degree working as a bartender. Instead we have examples of BigMedia/BigPol crying about “STEM worker shortage” where there already are countless underemployed STEM workers working Uber-ish type McJobs.
Afaict the only occupations (mostly) immune to Type 1 Overqualified Underemployment risk here in Murica are medical pros: physicians/dentists/pharmacists & possibly nurses. Otherwise there are stories of PhD Uber drivers, MBA strippers, & lawyers working Apple store retail, especially in the first few years post 2008-GFC but still present now. In other words, the US labor market “new economy” is resembling “old economy” of Latin America or Russia (proverbial physicist selling trinkets on the Trans-Siberia railway).
the long term overqualified unemployed cohort are usually over 50 (in a few cases even over 40 becomes a problem),it’s not just everyone, it has a HUGE overlap with … not being young.
from Eureka Springs, this:
“I often joke with my fellow country neighbors that it costs a hundred bucks to simply leave the house. It’s not a joke anymore. At this point those still fighting for a paltry 15.00 should include a hundred dollar per day walk out your front door per diem.”
This is a stark and startling reality. This reality is outside the framework of understandng of economic struggle in America that is allowed by the corporate neoliberal culture/media.
As the Precariat grows, having watched the .1% lie, cheat and steal–from them, they are more likely to also lie, cheat and steal in mortgage, employment and student loan applications and most importantly and sadly, in their dealings with each other.
Everybody is turning into a hustler.
As to dealings with institutions, this comment is apt.
I think this came from NC comments a couple of weeks ago. Apologies for not being able to attribute it to its author:
“Why should the worker be subservient to the employer? Citizens owe NO LOYALTY, moral or legal, to a someone else’s money making enterprise. And that enterprise is strictly a product of signed commercial legal documents. Commercial enterprise has no natural existence. It is a man-made creation, and is a “privilege”, not a “right”; just as a drivers license is a privilege and not an absolute right.”
Economics was always far too dangerous to be allowed to reveal the truth about the economy.
The Classical economist, Adam Smith, observed the world of small state, unregulated capitalism around him.
“The labour and time of the poor is in civilised countries sacrificed to the maintaining of the rich in ease and luxury. The Landlord is maintained in idleness and luxury by the labour of his tenants. The moneyed man is supported by his extractions from the industrious merchant and the needy who are obliged to support him in ease by a return for the use of his money. But every savage has the full fruits of his own labours; there are no landlords, no usurers and no tax gatherers.”
How does this tie in with the trickledown view we have today?
Somehow everything has been turned upside down.
The workers that did the work to produce the surplus lived a bare subsistence existence.
Those with land and money used it to live a life of luxury and leisure.
The bankers (usurers) created money out of nothing and charged interest on it. The bankers got rich, and everyone else got into debt and over time lost what they had through defaults on loans, and repossession of assets.
Capitalism had two sides, the productive side where people earned their income and the parasitic side where the rentiers lived off unearned income. The Classical Economists had shown that most at the top of society were just parasites feeding off the productive activity of everyone else.
Economics was always far too dangerous to be allowed to reveal the truth about the economy.
How can we protect those powerful vested interests at the top of society?
The early neoclassical economists hid the problems of rentier activity in the economy by removing the difference between “earned” and “unearned” income and they conflated “land” with “capital”. They took the focus off the cost of living that had been so important to the Classical Economists to hide the effects of rentier activity in the economy.
The landowners, landlords and usurers were now just productive members of society again.
It they left banks and debt out of economics no one would know the bankers created the money supply out of nothing. Otherwise, everyone would see how dangerous it was to let bankers do what they wanted if they knew the bankers created the money supply through their loans.
The powerful vested interests held sway and economics was corrupted.
Now we know what’s wrong with neoclassical economics we can put the cost of living back in.
Disposable income = wages – (taxes + the cost of living)
Employees want more disposable income (discretionary spending)
Employers want to pay lower wages for higher profits
The cost of living = housing costs + healthcare costs + student loan costs + food + other costs of living
The neoliberals obsessed about reducing taxes, but let the cost of living soar.
The economists also ignore the debt that is papering over the cracks and maintaining demand in the economy. This can never work in the longer term as you max. out on debt.
> These young people do not think of things like debt-free college or paid family leave as radical: they see it done elsewhere in the world and don’t accept that it can’t be done in America.
An unexpected consequence of globalization is that a lot of people see how thing are done, elsewhere.
Part of me doesn’t feel sorry at all for the plight of middle-class Americans. When times were good they were happy to throw poor and working-class people under the bus. I remember when the common answer to complaints about factory closings was “you should have gotten an education, dummy.” Now that the white-collar middle class can see that they are next on the chopping block they are finding their populist soul.
At the end of the day we need to have solidarity between workers but this is a good example of why you should never think that you are untouchable and why punching down is never a good political strategy. There will always be somebody more powerful than you and after they are done destroying the people at the bottom you will probably be next.
amen to that