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Friday, March 28, 2014

 
Whither the American Dream?

by digby

This piece by Kathy Geier in The Baffler about the wage fixing case in Silicon Valley gets to the nub of the issue in a way I haven't seen anyone else do:
When we hear about wage theft, we usually think of cases involving low-wage-earning retail or fast-food workers. But middle-class professionals have also frequently been victims of the practice. For example, like the Silicon Valley workers, nurses have had their earnings artificially depressed by wage-fixing cartels of their own. 
More broadly, middle class wages have declined or stagnated for years now (depending on which income group you look at), with economic gains being siphoned off by those at the top. It’s not just poor people or blue- and pink-collar types who are hurting . As the Silicon Valley wage-fixing case demonstrates, even upper middle class professionals have become victims of the one percenters’ class warfare. 
Two of the inequality-themed books I’ve read in the past couple of years, Chris Hayes’s Twilight of the Elites and Göran Therborn‎’s The Killing Fields of Inequality made similar arguments about how the masses can take back the world from the one percent. Since both are men of the left, I had expected them to argue, as Adolph Reed recently has, that the answer is to bring back the labor movement. But instead, they both concluded that the key to the fight is the middle class. 
Therborn’s analysis is that, due to the decline of the industrial working class, labor unions are no longer well positioned to take a central role in these struggles. Hayes’s argument is that, while it is often very difficult to persuade poor and working class people that they are entitled to anything better, “[T]here are few forces more powerful in politics than downward mobility, the dispossession of the formerly privileged.”
Geier concurs about the potential power of this displacement of the middle class and so do I.  If there has ever been a perfect example of how to radicalize average American workers, it would be the obscene sight of Millionaire Mitt Romney complaining that nearly half of the population is a bunch of lazy sods. I think all but the most blindly partisan can see that he was talking about a good portion of the middle class with those remarks --- and they didn't like it.

The United States has many enduring myths and legends but none is more central to its self-image than The American Dream. And the right has come to dramatically misunderstand what that dream actually is.  It's never been the dream of becoming a billionaire, although that's certainly something that exists in the popular imagination.  It's the dream of middle class security --- a house, a good job, a decent retirement, a better life for your children. And that's what feels like it's slipping away.

It's hard to imagine a middle class revolt in America.  We are, as I've said many times, a nation of overweight mall shoppers, not revolutionaries or Spartans. But unless that basic ideal of American prosperity and economic security is restored it could change. What will America be like without the American Dream?

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