In the Huffington Post today, Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren goes to elaborate lengths to argue that America’s middle class is disappearing. She concludes that:
America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Going to college and finding a good job no longer guarantee economic safety. Paying for a child’s education and setting aside enough for a decent retirement have become distant dreams. Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, watching as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pink slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff.
Sandra and I often argue about the existence of socio-economic classes In America. I grew up in Jamaica – in Colonial times – and I am familiar with the concept of class. Sandra grew up in America and she is convinced her society is classless. And I concede that in some ways she is right. In America, the janitor’s son can become a Wall Street banker and live in the Hamptons; the gardener’s daughter can become CEO of a global corporation and move in the most rarified social circles. In Jamaica, when I was growing up, such upward mobility was almost impossible.
I am sure that with independence from Britain, Jamaica has changed and upward mobility there has become easier. Meanwhile, American society has also changed, but in the opposite direction. And perhaps it was inevitable. When America was a new democracy, the rich had not yet solidified their grip on power for themselves and their heirs. But as time passed, they found ways of creating dynasties. And as the rich networked with each other, they created political and social alliances that gave a privileged few more and more control over the country.
With this power has come a greater gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us. And as the rich has become richer, the middle class has dwindled.
In a recent Rolling Stone article, Pulitzer Prize winning economist Paul Krugman predicts a continuation of this trend:
The United States doesn’t have Third World levels of economic inequality — yet. But it is not hard to foresee, in the current state of our political and economic scene, the outline of a transformation into a permanently unequal society — one that locks in and perpetuates the drastic economic polarization that is already dangerously far advanced.
I suppose that human nature being what it is, this kind of social evolution is only natural. But I wonder whether there’s more to it than that. During the presidency of George W. Bush, there was an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the super-rich. And some observers believe this was no accident. They argue that unseen hands pull the politicians’ strings, and these sinister forces would find it much easier to control a society consisting of rich and poor than one with a fluid middle class.
Of course, it could be just another conspiracy theory. And then again…