D. Dowd Muska

 

Who’s to Blame? Not the Middle Class

August 30, 2012

A Pew Research Center survey taken in the second half of July found that 85 percent of self-reported members of the middle class “say it is more difficult today than 10 years ago for [them] to maintain their standard of living.”

Dejection is felt by all cohorts in Anytown, USA: “[T]he downbeat assessment is shared by virtually identical proportions of men and women, Republicans and Democrats, the college-educated and those with a high school degree or less.”

Only a third of middle-classers are “very satisfied” with their finances. Forty-seven percent believe that their children’s quality of life will either remain the same or be worse than theirs.

The results of “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier” aren’t surprising. Since the 1970s, liberals have wailed about a country of brutally exploited wage-slaves living “paycheck to paycheck,” with economic calamity lurking behind even minor personal or professional glitches. In the 21st century, this bleak narrative finally began to ring true.

The twin terrors of the 43rd and 44th presidencies helped push employment down by 4.8 million positions. Total U.S. jobs peaked at 138 million in January 2008, around the onset of the Great Recession. By George W. Bush’s departure in January 2009, the number had dipped to 133.6 million, and his successor’s “recovery” saw a further slip to 133.2 million. In a June analysis, the Federal Reserve’s Division of Research and Statistics calculated that “median net worth fell 38.8 percent” between 2007 and 2010.

The Wall Street Journal recently cited a Sentier Research estimate that median household income has plunged by $4,019 under President Obama. But the Journal’s neocon editorialists deserve credit for (grudgingly) admitting that Bush’s watch was no nirvana for the typical American domicile -- the nation suffered “subpar economic growth across the 2000s.”

Things are bad. Real bad. So what got us here?

Pew’s respondents were asked how much they blame seven “institutions or groups for the economic problems of the past decade.” Congress led the way in “a lot,” at 62 percent, followed by banks and financial institutions (54 percent), large corporations (47 percent), the Bush administration (44 percent), foreign competition (39 percent), and the Obama administration (34 percent).

Are “middle-class people themselves” to blame? “A lot” landed at the bottom: just 8 percent. Forty-two percent replied “a little,” and 47 percent answered “not at all.”

Wow.

Congress is indeed stuffed with dingbats, bullies, cretins, lunatics, codgers, and grifters. But Americans can still vote, right? In 2010, how many fedpols were forced into involuntary retirement for supporting the ineffective, pork-laden “stimulus”? What congressman or senator has paid a price for refusing to address the nation’s entitlement crisis? When Our Man in Washington brings home the billions for expensive and unnecessary “defense systems,” is he condemned, or feted?

With the exception of K Street creatures, disdain for Big Business’s lobbying is widespread. But politically juiced “large corporations” don’t siphon the public trough without help. Plenty of elected officials still in office today backed the TARP bailout in 2008. And grassroots campaigns rarely block the goodies -- e.g., reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank -- delivered to corporate-welfare addicts.

A globalized economy poses a daunting challenge for a country that’s been tops in nearly everything for the last century. But middle-class voters are largely indifferent to policies that would help the U.S. perform better in the planetary competition for investment and jobs. There’s no groundswell of resistance to Washington’s ridiculously high corporate-tax rate. Politically correct energy mandates that boost the price of fuel and electricity aren’t opposed. Protectionism, which drives up the cost of imported materials for domestic industries, is popular. Real education reform -- i.e., vouchers, tuition tax credits, homeschooling -- is progressing, but far too slowly. Tens of millions of parents allow their children to endlessly play graphic videogames and constantly watch “reality” programs that glorify ignorance, boorishness, and sloth. Cheaper pay, it would seem, isn’t the sole reason why corporations seek workers aboard.

The Average American doesn’t see himself as a contributor to his economic travails. “They” are to blame -- crooked pols, evil corporations, a Republican/Democratic president, developing countries that “steal our jobs.” Populism works, nearly every time it’s tried. That’s why interest groups employ it’s-us-against-them PR tactics.

Yet the surest method to remain mired in your current circumstances is to believe that immutable forces are at work. Neither a man’s nor a nation’s destiny is preordained. The middle class has more than enough cultural, economic, and political power to transcend its “lost decade.”

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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