Tag Archives: middle class

Populism arises amidst American workers abandoned by both Left & Right

Summary: Populism has arisen from the lower middle class, Americans abandoned not just by the Right (owned by the 1%) but the Left as well. Populists are the swing vote in modern elections. Who they choose to ally with might create a coalition that rules for another generation. It was the Left in the New Deal. And now? Either way, populism will last beyond Campaign 2016.

Fork in the road

Decline of the middle class in America

This report by Gallup shows the fracturing of the middle class, as they are slowly ground down. We’re near the historic moment when more Americans identify as “working and lower class” than “middle class” — a milestone in the Right’s long project to reverse the New Deal. This shows the force powering the political fires now ignited. We’re just discussing what form it will take.

Americans are considerably less likely now than they were in 2008 and years prior to identify themselves as middle class or upper-middle class, while the percentage putting themselves in the working or lower class has risen. Currently, 51% of Americans say they are middle class or upper-middle class, while 48% say they are lower class or working class. In multiple surveys conducted from 2000 through 2008, an average of more than 60% of Americans identified as middle or upper-middle class.

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When marriage disappears: rising inequality as the threat to the family

Summary:  This post looks at the disintegration of the family, another example of America’s regression as we quietly surrendering generations of gains. The America we loved — relatively classless, with a big middle class, low inequality and high social mobility — dies a little every day. The evidence lies before us, obvious in the news and described by countless studies. But to see it would create pressure to take political action. Work, risk, expense! It’s not too late to reverse these trends, but time is not on our side.

When Marriage Disappears

When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America
The National Marriage Project, U of VA

Introduction

In middle America, marriage is in trouble. Among the affluent, marriage is stable and may even be getting stronger. Among the poor, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. But the most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where marriage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.

For the last few decades, the retreat from marriage has been regarded largely as a problem afflicting the poor. But today, it is spreading into the solid middle of the middle class. …

Race, Class, and Marriage

Forty-five years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan drew the nation’s attention to the growing racial divide in American family life with the release of his report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Moynihan later noted that his report had just captured the first tremors of “the earthquake that shuddered through the American family” over the course of the last half century.

Moynihan was right. This can be seen in Figure S1, which tracks trends in the percentage of working-age adults (25–60) who are in intact marriages, by race and educational attainment. While it is true that the nation’s retreat from marriage started first among African Americans, it is also evident that the retreat from marriage has now clearly moved into the precincts of black and white Middle America.

Specifically, in both the 1970s and the 2000s, blacks in all educational groupings were less likely to be in intact marriage than were their white peers. For both groups, marriage trends were not clearly and consistently stratified by education in the 1970s. However, by the 2000s, they are clearly stratified, such that the most-educated whites and blacks are also the most likely to be in intact marriages, and the least-educated whites and blacks are also the least likely to be in intact marriages.

This report is too rich in insights to summarize. The message and graphs are clear; it’s easy to read. I strongly recommend reading it. Here’s one graph I found especially compelling.

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Complaints about air travel are the cries of a dying middle class

Summary: The airline industry is a tale of New America. Deregulation, cheap fares allowing more people to travel but with increasingly poor service and rising complaints. It’s an oft-told story of stupid people unaware of the consequences to their behavior. But that’s a shallow view that misses the real significance of these trends.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Airlines in the past

 

Contents

  1. Unexpected fruits of deregulation.
  2. Interpreting the whining.
  3. It’s the cry of a dying middle class.
  4. Conclusion: expect more of this.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1)  Unexpected but logical fruits of airline deregulation

The rollback of the New Deal began with deregulation of the airlines (except for safety) — done by the President who began the conservative revolution, which his successor accelerated: James Carter. This allowed far more people to fly, people formerly limited to buses, trains and cars.  The unexpected side effect: service has slowly and steadily deteriorated. (There are 25 years of data from the Airline Quality Ratings database run for DoT, with many studies of it by experts such as Dean E Headley — but I can find no analysis of the trend over that period — probably for the obvious reason).

Why has service deteriorated while traffic rose (from 191 billion passenger-miles in 1980 to 580 billion in 2012)? It wasn’t the speed of the increase. In the 20 years before deregulation traffic rose over twice as fast as in the 20 years afterwards — with the airlines still providing excellent service. It’s not that the airlines are rapacious and greedy — their industry has an ugly combination of high volatility (in technology, competition, and revenues) and low profitability. During the dark days after 9/11 it was said that the industry had accumulated no net profits since the Wright brothers.

The answer is obvious: customers give their business on the basis of flight convenience and cost. Carriers give people what they want: cheap travel. Since they have no wizards, that means bare bones service — with cycles of cost-cutting, each one clipping off cost and satisfaction. The next cycle features a new class more crowded than economy.

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Techno-utopians keep us ignorant of the past so we cannot see the future

Summary: A new industrial revolution has begun. Knowledge of previous ones can guide us, preparing us for its likely dynamics and showing us the political actions necessary to distribute it’s benefits. But the 1% are working against us, seeking to return us to the pre-New Deal era of inequality and profitable (for them) instability. Keeping us passive is the key to their success; keeping us ignorant is one way to do that.

Comet 's office of the future

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Contents

  1. The past helps us see the future
  2. The world of yesterday
  3. The world of tomorrow, emerging today
  4. Jeff Bezos shows us our high-tech future
  5. For More Information

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(1)  The past helps us see the future

The previous industrial revolutions produced great new wealth from increased productivity, but distributed only by politics:  collective action producing new public policy.

The future need not resemble the past, but it’s a likely scenario. The technopians, like Marc Andreessen (@pmarca on Twitter) vividly describe the wonders of the future, but actively deny the political action probably necessary to realize it. They’re brilliant, educated people. How could they ignore this history? The simple answer: they’re not stupid; they believe that we are stupid.

(2)  The world of yesterday

“Knowledge itself is power.”
— Thomas Hobbes’ Sacred Meditations (1597)

This works in reverse as well. Our amnesia shifts power from our hands to those of others. A people that have lost their past cannot learn, and so cannot prepare for the future.

The advent of the first two industrial revolutions produced great wealth, but concentrated in few hands — with massive unemployment and poorly paid workers in unsafe conditions. This resulted from policy, not happenstance, as the 1% bitterly fought efforts to change the Gilded Age political system and distribute the bounty of America’s material and technological riches.  This, plus a financial system run by and for the 1% (e.g., creditor-friendly deflation) produced incredible (and unnecessary) hardship accompanied by economic instability.

As a result America’s second industrial revolution started and ended with decade-long depressions (the Long Depression and Great Depression), with frequent use of violence to suppress workers (see this list of private and State violence against unions).

Due to our sanitized children’s history, Americans know little of our history between the Civil War and WW1 (other than the cowboys). We cannot see the sad real history behind our fables (e.g., see “Little Libertarians on the prairie“), let alone learn from it.

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Do America’s leaders say “Apres moi, le deluge”?

Summary:  Today Chet Richards looks a recent Stratfor post about the crisis of the middle class, and from there explores some of the challenges facing 21st century America.

20130109-Fear-Wolf

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George Friedman, Founder and CEO of Stratfor, is always worth reading for the same reason that, say, James Kilpatrick was: You might not have agreed with much that he wrote, but there were usually a few nuggets amidst the infuriation, and he wrote so amazingly well. In fact, in his later years, his columns on writing were all I remember.

Friedman has an important column  in Stratfor, The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power. He opens with:

I received a great deal of feedback, with Europeans agreeing that this is the core problem and Americans arguing that the United States has the same problem, asserting that U.S. unemployment is twice as high as the government’s official unemployment rate. My counterargument is that unemployment in the United States is not a problem in the same sense that it is in Europe because it does not pose a geopolitical threat. The United States does not face political disintegration from unemployment, whatever the number is. Europe might.

And proceeds to argue most eloquently that the United States faces exactly that. This was also something the late John Boyd (Colonel, USAF) worried about. For examples, here’s part of his discussion of the prerequisites for an insurrection.  From his presentation Patterns of Conflict, slide 94:

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Ugly truths about income inequality in America, which no politician dares to say

Summary:  A new books by journalists Barlett and Steele shows some ugly and seldom-mentioned aspects of the growing inequality in America.  Most especially, the role of government policy. It didn’t just happen.

“Avarice, the mother of all wickedness, who, always thirsty for more, opens wide her jaws for gold.”
Claudianus, De Laudibus Stilichonis, II, 111.

Some are more equal than others

Contents

  1. Today’s reading about income inequality in America
  2. Reviews of the Book
  3. About the Sunlight Foundation
  4. For More Information

(1)  About income inequality in America

Barlett & Steele address what politicians won’t
by Bill Allison, Sunlight Foundation
28 August 2012

Investigative journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are in Washington, D.C., today to talk about their new book, The Betrayal of the American Dream. I’ve read it, and if there’s one takeaway from I can share without spoiling it, it’s this:  The roots of the current economic insecurity felt by millions of Americans go well beyond the issues and programs promoted by politicians of either party. And as we kick off the Republican Convention (which Sunlight Live will cover), the Democratic Convention (ditto) and launch into the fall campaign season, it’s unlikely that either candidate will address them.

Betrayal describes the impact of a series of policies adopted by Washington on middle class and working class Americans; the work focuses more on the stories of the victims than on those who made the policies. Some of their earlier works — America: What Went Wrong (published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which distributed for free more than 225,000 reprints of the series; the book went on to be a best-seller), America: Who Really Pays the Taxes and America: Who Stole the Dream (full disclosure: I was fortunate enough to work as their researcher on that book), go into great depth about how special interests used lobbying, campaign contributions and the revolving door to get their way in Washington.

I thought of Barlett & Steele recently when historian Niall Ferguson touched off a firestorm by writing a Newsweek cover story called “Hit the Road, Barack” (alternative title suggestion: 2008 John McCain supporter prefers Romney over Obama). Ferguson wrote, as part of his brief against a second term for the incumbent:

“Welcome to Obama’s America: nearly half the population is not represented on a taxable return — almost exactly the same proportion that lives in a household where at least one member receives some type of government benefit. We are becoming the 50–50 nation — half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits.”

In a rebuttal to Ferguson’s piece, Matthew O’Brien of the Atlantic responded:

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Why the middle class is dying

Summary:  The slow growth of employment (far slower than GDP or corporate profits) continues to puzzle economists.  Perhaps it’s just a short-term oddity.  Perhaps something has changed in the overall economy.  Slowly economists see, albeit dimly, the coming robot revolution (no, it’s not funny).  This is another in a series about the possibility of radical and severe evolution of employment in the 21st century (aka the robot revolution); links to other chapters appear at the end.

From the brilliant (albeit dogmatic leftist) Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley):

What are we all going to do in the future as machines replace more and more of our jobs?

This has worried economists ever since the eighteenth-century French physiocrats tried to figure out how an economy could avoid mass unemployment if the agricultural share of the labor force ever fell below two-thirds. What would all those extra people do? Everybody knew that non-agricultural workers were not creators of net wealth but simply ways of transforming wealth–food and raw materials go into a non-agricultural sector and useful stuff comes out but, the physiocrats said, the non-agricultural workers transform value, they don’t create value. Only the agriculturalists create value. And should the agricultural share of the labor force drop below fifty percent, there won’t be enough useful ways to transform the agriculture-created value to employ everybody.

The physiocrats were, of course, wrong. We found lots of useful things that people could do not just to transform but to create value as the agricultural share of the labor force headed down to its current 2% or so share. But what happens next as hardware robots take over manufacturing, mining, and transportation and as software ‘bots take over the routine paper shuffling?

From the always insightful Paul Krugman — when he’s an economist, not channeling Spiro Agnew (i.e., a partisan attack dog) — in the New York Times, 6 March 2011:

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