A Future for the Middle Class
Politicians of both parties talk a lot about their dedication to the Middle Class. Both parties say that the Middle Class is the backbone of our society. Both parties say that the policies they support will help the Middle Class. But these politicians and the people they appoint to high positions are not themselves members of this Middle Class. They are the prime examples of people who have escaped the pedestrian bonds of house, car and vacation to ascend to the right hand of the rich, where they feed on the same delicacies and talk to the same people and lose contact with the lives of the people actually occupy the medians of wealth and income. These politicians are presiding over the end of the Middle Class they love so much every election.
Every politician who represents people in those median families tells voters that their policies will make those families safe and secure. And apparently, enough of those families believe those politicians. They say that if their set of brilliant saints were allowed to run things, all would be good, but those damfool devils from the other party make that impossible. Neither party believes that the government should try to do what the majority wants; that would be too much like democracy to suit their oligarchic patrons.
The Republicans believe the government should disappear, and the Democrats believe in government but just a little. The Democrats say they are good because of their stands on social issues, and the Republicans say they are good because of their stands on social issues. If politicians are good in this sense, their economic policies must be good too. That makes no sense, but there we are.
All political discussions take place in a cloud of lies and deceit furnished by paid hacks for the rich. There are people in the business of providing lies to politicians and talking heads and reporters that obfuscate and distort reality for short-term profits. These zombie lies about economics don’t die, and return at the worst possible times to destroy any hope. Austerity is a perfect example. As Mark Blyth shows in Austerity, The History of a Dangerous Idea, one of our Book Salon books, there is neither intellectual or empirical support for this ridiculous idea, but policy makers here and in Europe just love it and are wrecking societies by following it.
We cannot expect to change things directly through politics.
There is no coherent Middle Class, no enormous group of people in the center of the wealth and income distribution which thinks of itself as a group, with common interests. It seems impossible for people to see themselves as a group when there are enormous social and educational differences among them. Connections like these may seem obvious to an outsider, but they are invisible to the people in those groups.
1. They are dependent for their survival on jobs.
2. They don’t have the means to create jobs for themselves.
3. They have to pay to acquire the skills they need to qualify for those jobs.
4. They do not play any part in deciding the economic policies that control their lives.
5. They do not understand the way economic policy is made in the political labyrinth.
6. They are all subject to being fired for no reason.
7. They are all at risk of becoming permanently unemployable.
8. They are not aware of these facts about their own lives.
How does this change? One way is that enough people get hurt by the current system that we have some sort of radical change. That doesn’t bode well for progressives. The history of repression of leftists in this country is long and painful. The rich have made it clear that they will not tolerate socialism or communism or even a regime of progressive laws for any extended period. Think about Eugene Debs, or the Wobblies, or Occupy.
We can’t have change from any of the usual sources, the working class, academics, students. They are all compromised and atomized. Just like the Middle Class, they do not see themselves as having economic interests in common, and they do not feel connected to each other.
I’ve been thinking that the most likely way forward lies in a cultural change led by a group of cultural leaders. The change would be towards a different idea about the good life. Instead of accumulating piles of material goods, people try to accumulate quality artisanal goods. Those goods are not the mass consumables made by giant corporations in far away countries; they are locally made by your neighbors. Equally important, Wall Street can’t make money off them. Buying these goods gradually defunds the rich, and enriches your neighbors and yourself.
If people quit going to the chain restaurants and began going to their local restaurants, things would change. If people quit buying store cheese foods and started buying good cheeses from artisanal cheese makers, things would change. If they bought their bread at the bakery instead chemical laden grocery brands, things would change. If people quit buying plywood furniture from big box stores and started buying from local woodcrafters, things would change. If people stopped buying beer from mass producers and started buying craft beers, things would change. If people cut out all the middlemen between the mass consumables and the makers of quality goods, things would change.
One of the biggest changes is that we could more clearly see the connections among ourselves, and our differences with the rich. We could see that they mean us harm. We could change things together. And no one would get hurt.
Other posts in this series:
Mass Consumption Created and Killed the Middle Class
The Middle Class is Not for Itself
Capital Accumulation But Not For You
Middle Class Muddle
Thinking About Class Structure of the United States