Our popular conception of history is often at odds with the reality of history. For example, we often think that history is comprised of periods of peace punctuated by war. That is why we are often “surprised” when war breaks out in some part of the world. The reality, though, is that history is war punctuated by periods of peace. “Peace” is the miraculous event…not war. We tend to think the same way concerning our middle class existence in America. We think that we’ve lived a more or less decent middle class lifestyle and that these economic bumps called “recessions” are just anomalies. This too is at odds with the reality of history. A prosperous middle class is NOT the norm in the United States. Prosperity for the middle class is an anomaly, a glitch in the system. The majority of Americans were piss poor and, thankfully, we are heading back to those “good ol’ days.” How did this happen? Time for a history lesson.
[Note: If you are a typical American and I have already exhausted your attention span, I will sum up the remainder of this post in one simple phrase, "Dude. You're fucked." Now...go to Hooters and watch a ball game.]
World War II changed life for the American middle class because it put America in the enviable position of being the only economy not devastated by the war. We were the leaders in technology and manufacturing and, even though there were some economic hiccups, life for the middle class improved in leaps and bounds. But by the 1970′s trouble was brewing. Organized labor kept demanding and getting higher wages. The middle class was growing in both wealth and power. This was seen by some as being a major problem. Thankfully there was someone who could fix it and set things on the right course. His name was Ronald Reagan. Though senility was already kicking in, his warm, avuncular style made America feel good about itself. He was just the right spokesperson, just the right person to redefine reality and get Americans to believe it. Under Reagan we saw the how the poor, downtrodden wealthy were being oppressed and needed massive tax cuts. The effect of this was a redistribution of wealth upward. Organized labor was getting a bit too powerful so Uncle Reagan showed us how to handle that. He fired 50,000 PATCO workers, that’s 50,000 union workers fired by the President of the United States. Thus began the assault on organized labor. We were then sold the story of how we were turning into a service economy. That was a euphemism for deindustrializing the country and shipping overseas our manufacturing jobs, the very jobs which were often unionized and which paid decent wages. President Senility also convinced us that government was the enemy, that the answer to all things was private enterprise. What we are experiencing now is the logical unfolding of the topsy turvy world put in motion by President Senility. Government is the enemy (do we really need to inspect all that food anyway?); unions are terrible, corrupt organizations (do we really need those middle class wages and pensions and vacations?), and privatization is the solution to our problems.From Reagan to George H.W. to Bill to George Dubya we have continued, more or less unabated, on this path of government as enemy, privatization is the answer to our problems and exporting our high paying jobs is a good thing. In addition we continued with our tax cuts for the wealthy and have effectively reproduced the distribution of wealth we had in the 1920′s.
By the time Obama walked into office the economic system was in total collapse. Wall Street shenanigans brought it all tumbling down. The economy ran on credit for at least ten years fueled, in part, by a middle class that had little choice but to borrow money in order to maintain its middle class existence. Its high paying unionized jobs were shipped overseas and what few jobs remained were not unionized, did not pay decent wages and offered no real future.
The middle class is now in the position where it has lost much of the value of their homes, lost much of the value of their 401K’s and their pensions and lost their purchasing power. The US dollar is close to worthless and we have a total debt (13 trillion dollars) that would make a third-world country blush. In case the middle class haven’t lost enough of their wealth, their good friends, the Republicans, are setting their sights, yet again, on Social Security. Remember the idea of privatizing Social Security? Of investing it in the stock market? Well, that idea is back in slightly repackaged form.
So, in light of all this, in light of the destruction of the middle class, what’s the most important issue of the day? You know the answer. You hear about it all the time from the people who worry about the middle class day and night. The most important issue of the day is, should we allow a mosque to be built in lower Manhattan?
Are Americans the smartest people on earth or wa?
Some Additional Reading:
- 1938 in 2010
- For many unemployed workers, jobs aren’t coming back
- The (Potential) Effects of the Recession
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