Memo to the middle class: You’re no longer needed

“There’s class warfare, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” — Warren Buffett, 2006

TO: Middle America
RE: Your future

You just don’t get it, do you?

The middle class has long played a central role in the health of America’s economy. As the middle class grew, America’s economic weight grew. The rich capitalists atop the income scale may have always taken the most, to be sure, but a healthy consumer class was always a prerequisite to fill the rich’s coffers. You were needed for two reasons: to design, make, distribute and sell goods; and to purchase those goods en masse. It’s what kept our economy churning, and kept you reasonably prosperous. You powered the economy for everyone.

But something’s changed over the last 30-odd years. The middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power it once did: the middle class’ share of wealth has gone down since 1979. Of course, the economy has continued to grow since then, but as the current crisis shows (wonderfully explained by Robert Reich), a large part of the success of the middle class as America’s driving economic engine has of late come via the smoke and mirrors of deficit spending (credit cards) and housing values. You just don’t have the purchasing power you once did (even Wal-Mart is noticing), and you’re losing the ability to fake it.

In the past, this might have been a genuine crisis for America’s elites, as a flailing middle class would provide fewer opportunities for money-making at the top. But now, how the rich fare and how the middle class fare are no longer so intertwined.

Thank globalization. American workers are no longer needed to make things in factories — that’s cheaper to do elsewhere. And the American marketplace doesn’t need to be the primary consumer of those goods, either: China, India and other countries offer the promise of even larger and more lucrative markets. With our educational system slowly crumbling, Americans are also becoming less competitive when it comes to designing and managing the production and sale of goods, too — unless you count the low-wage, low-skill service jobs that have arisen to ineffectually “replace” the loss of better jobs. You’re just not needed.

Why should the economic elite, or the policymakers in Washington they own, care about you any longer? What do you have to offer, what can you bring to bear on the situation? Certainly not the threat of retribution or revolution. You’ve shown yourselves too easy to lead into infighting among yourselves over abortion, climate change, evolution, gay marriage, “family values” and other wedge issues, while the rich continue to pillage your wealth and get a larger slice of the pie. Things have gotten so bad that many of you will happily gut what remains of the system originally crafted to prop you up — education, welfare, other social services — just to save perhaps a few hundred dollars in taxes every year. You’re so desperate for work you even feel threatened by low-wage immigrant workers. And something — your aspirations, the “American Dream,” a perverse belief in a shaky-at-best meritocracy — prevents you from wanting to expose those at the top.

Wake up, America! The central problem isn’t that the government is in debt, or that gays want to eventually get divorces, or that Mr. Terrorist Bogeyman is going to blow you up. It’s that the rich have hoarded the money and soaked you dry, and — unlike the past — there’s no reason for them to give one whit about you and your plight. They don’t need you any more!

Sure, during election cycles, politicians will make overtures that they care about you. They will propose empty solutions on how to “create jobs” and “jumpstart the economy.” But these solutions — whether they involve cutting taxes or funding “shovel-ready” projects — offer no real, systemic solutions. The money flowing through Washington dictating policy outcomes isn’t coming from you — it’s coming from business interests and their leaders. The rich have bought the influence to protect their wealth.

You are facing a very real, drawn-out and agonizing death, with your ranks slowly thinning over decades.

But that death is not yet inevitable. Not if you soon realize that you’ve been taken for a ride, and that the only way economic recovery — and long-term health of the middle class — will be possible is if you get the money out of politics and install leaders who can take back from the monied class what you helped create over decades: wealth. If you don’t, the capitalists at the top will continue to look for economic engines outside America, and Democrats and Republicans will continue to sell you up the river, until you become so withered and frail you become unrecognizable as an economic force.




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