Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Unhappy Holidays: What do the middle class and the American dream have in common?

Answer to the riddle: Both are disappearing -- faster and faster.

Here are two essays from commondreams.org on the disappearing middle class.

1. Peter Van Buren explains what has gone so wrong.

The middle class, which for 40 years has represented a majority of the country in practice, and formed the foundational belief in what has been known as the “American Dream,” is now just half the United States, according to a new report.

Over at least the last four decades, productivity gains have gone largely to the top of the economic pyramid, increasing both their income and wealth. Real income growth has been flat for most Americans, even as the cost of living has increased.

Need it in numbers? The share of America’s income going to the middle class has fallen from 62 percent in 1970 to 43 percent now. Today, the majority of our national income goes to the upper class, which reaps a 49 percent share. (By comparison, the share of income going to the upper class in 1970 was just 29 percent). The median wealth of middle class households has fallen by more than one-fourth since the beginning of this century.

Need it in simple terms?. The rich are getting very much richer, seeing their wealth grow exponentially. The middle class is shrinking. Meanwhile, the poor are still poor and their numbers are growing. We are indeed heading toward a society within a society within the world’s wealthiest nation — one percent of “us” now own half of everything.

Want to know what lies ahead? Here are the dark implications Van Buren sees.

At the point where a handful of people control most of the wealth, and the other money in our nation is so diffuse as to make those individuals in the bottom 99 percent of our society irrelevant except as cheap labor, we live in a modern day version of feudalism. Money is power, and a select handful now can control elections with “donations,” can have laws written and rewritten to match their needs, can keep a lid on the minimum wage more and more of us depend on now to get by, manipulate college loan and mortgage rates to keep people in debt, and secure ownership of the land we live on and the places we live. Hyper-wealthy people through their charitable foundations are free to social-engineer our world, paying to say grow one form of educational system while leaving another to wither on limited funding.

How did the wealthy pull off the greatest peaceful takeover of a nation in human history? Very easily. Their master stroke, however, was not to take predatory capitalism to its extreme, but to do so without sparking more than a whisper of disagreement from the very people they trod upon. Here is the lynch pin of how the rich have taken us: they have convinced average Americans to act and vote against their own interests, in part by manipulating them into opposing any program that has a chance of benefiting black and brown equally or more than themselves. Decent health care and nutrition for everyone? That’s socialism!

Another way of saying it: the 1% have succeeded in turning America on itself, in turning Americans against each other. And then they capitalize on the resulting fear.

2. Paul Buchheit writes an open letter to Congress about the impoverishment of America,

Recent reports have documented the growing rates of impoverishment in the U.S., and new information surfacing in the past 12 months shows that the trend is continuing, and probably worsening.

Congress should be filled with guilt -- and shame -- for failing to deal with the enormous wealth disparities that are turning our country into the equivalent of a 3rd-world nation.

Here are the topics Buchheit covers.

  • Half of Americans Make Less than a Living Wage
  • Half of Americans Have No Savings
  • Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Can't Afford to Fix Their Cars
  • The Middle Class Is Disappearing

Members of Congress, comfortably nestled in bed with millionaire friends and corporate lobbyists, are in denial about the true state of the American middle class. The once-vibrant middle of America has dropped to lower-middle, and it is still falling.

I suppose Congress will paraphrase another famous figure who lost her head over inequality: let them fix brakes.

The serious bottom line is that we are approaching, if not now living in, a feudal society. Van Buren reiterates..

People, we have been bought. Someone else now, in every effective and meaningful way, owns us...

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