RIP: I remember the middle class
Once the people worked hard and prospered. Those days are gone. The middle class is disappearing like free snacks at happy hour now. So for your Sunday reading, a good review of how we got to our current dismal state of "everything is all fucked up and bullshit."
When I was growing up, it was assumed that America’s shared prosperity was the natural endpoint of our economy’s development, that capitalism had produced the workers paradise to which Communism unsuccessfully aspired. Now, with the perspective of 40 years, it’s obvious that the nonstop economic expansion that lasted from the end of World War II to the Arab oil embargo of 1973 was a historical fluke, made possible by the fact that the United States was the only country to emerge from that war with its industrial capacity intact. Unfortunately, the middle class – especially the blue-collar middle class – is also starting to look like a fluke, an interlude between Gilded Ages that more closely reflects the way most societies structure themselves economically. For the majority of human history – and in the majority of countries today – there have been only two classes: aristocracy and peasantry. It’s an order in which the many toil for subsistence wages to provide luxuries for the few. Twentieth century America temporarily escaped this stratification, but now, as statistics on economic inequality demonstrate, we’re slipping back in that direction. Between 1970 and today, the share of the nation’s income that went to the middle class – households earning two-thirds to double the national median – fell from 62 percent to 45 percent. Last year, the wealthiest 1 percent took in 19 percent of America’s income – their highest share since 1928. It’s as though the New Deal and the modern labor movement never happened. [...]Related: The Complete Guide To The GOP’s Three-Year Campaign To Shut Down The Government. Alternate title, "The GOP invents its own reality." If it was a work of fiction no publisher would publish it because the storyline is so absurd.
The United States will never again be as wealthy as it was in the 1950s and ’60s. Never again will 18-year-olds graduate directly from high school to jobs that pay well enough to buy a house and support a family. (Even the auto plants now demand a few years in junior college.) That was inevitable, due to the recovery of our World War II enemies, and automation that enables 5,000 workers to build the same number of cars that once required 25,000 hands. What was not inevitable was the federal government withdrawing its supervision of the economy at the precise moment Americans began to need it more than at any time since the Great Depression.
The lesson of the last 40 years is that we can’t depend on the free market to sustain a middle class. It’s not going to happen without government intervention. Even when American industry dominated the world, one reason workers prospered was that the economy operated on New Deal underpinnings, which included legal protections for labor unions, government regulation of industry and high marginal income tax rates.