Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An American Goes to Europe and Discovers America

An interesting item today from AlterNet via the Daily Kos.  It is written by an American ex pat living in Europe who had to travel abroad to see America as it really is.

 ...the British Guardian newspaper says that the so-called American middle class lifestyle for most people was fake and that was financed by three decades of a debt bubble which has now gone bust. The credit ride of working class folks living a middle class lifestyle is dead and gone. Is this article stating bluntly that it's over? The only remaining question is, will it ever come back? I mean, how long can people ride a wave of endless debt before the ride is over, all while pretending to be middle class? Is that what this British Guardian newspaper article is saying?

" In the midterm elections politicians have promised to " do something"  for the middle class. The kindest thing they could do is tell the truth: Americans have been living a middle-class lifestyle on working-class wages – and bridging the gap with credit. And it's over.

In a free-market society the real middle class is always a minority: if your street has a gate and a security camera at the end of it then you are middle class. A real middle-class kid can afford a college education, not a web-based degree. The real middle-class family does not skip meals or find its automobiles trapped in the repair shop because of unpaid bills.

The writer then draws on this item from the International Business Times:

The nation that once gloated over its ability to feed the entire world is seeing an explosion of poverty: The number of people surviving on food stamps is rising as biting unemployment refuses to abate, personal incomes have been falling while the debt bubble is inflating with each passing day and, in a more startling representation of the grim reality, tent cities are mushrooming as more and more people are pushed out of their ‘underwater’ homes.

And this passage from The Daily Mail: 

A record one in six American families went hungry last year because they did not have enough food, a shock survey has revealed.

Some 17.4million U.S. households - 50 million people - were classified as ‘food insecure’ which meant they regularly skipped meals even if they wanted to eat. Others went for entire days without eating and handed round smaller portion sizes to make their meagre offerings suffice.

The news comes as it is revealed that top U.S. executives saw their pay and bonuses shoot up last year in the face of the worst recession for 80 years.

This is an important article because it reveals not only the delusions so many Americans have of their own country and the world at large but also the smoldering social upheaval that is building across the United States.

A couple of years ago a friend and I rode our motorcycles along the coast down to southern California.  At one point we wound up in Monterey which is one very upscale town.  As we were enjoying dinner at a fine restaurant I saw my friend gazing at the splendour of the area.   I suggested that she soak it all up because she was looking at the very zenith of America for it was all built on borrowed money, debt.

The decline, some say near-extinction, of America's middle class is profoundly disturbing.   Yet this is the result of outsourcing industry by the elite, rentier class in search of short-term, maximized returns at the expense of their nation's long-term health and viability.

The middle class serves so many functions without which democracy itself falters.   A healthy, robust middle class spanning the range from the trades to the professions creates social cohesion, provides a buffer between the rich and poor, thwarts political extremism of all sorts and is the very ladder of merit-driven social advancement and the hope of the poor for a better life.  Destroy the middle class and you tear that ladder down.  Social mobility in the United States today is lower than it has been for a century or more.   Radical rightwing politics have taken hold.  Perverse ideologies are nurtured by a dissembling media.   The gap between the rich and the poor is burgeoning.   Social cohesion is dissolving as, one by one, the myths of prosperity are shattered.

With all the damage done it's very difficult to imagine a middle class restoration.  How do the powerless go about dismantling the super powerful oligarchy when the organs of the state have been put in harness to service of that elite?


saskboy said...

You keep writing what I'm thinking. If more people understood the world as we do, it might be a less hostile place for people concerned about the attack on Wikileaks and investigative media.

The Mound of Sound said...

Saskboy, at times it becomes depressingly obvious that we of the "great unwashed" are being set up against each other to sap our collective power, confound our shared interests and distract us from what is truly happening. Wedge politics is the vehicle of puppet masters. The sad truth is that the centre has not held.

This shift of the political centre to the right is unnatural. In Canada this is what Harper expressly set out to do but, rather than pushing back, the Libs have followed a man who would also position them to the right and, in the process, enables Harper's prime objective.

The political centre is the natural home of the middle class who never venture too far right or too far left.

This shift, levered on the back of wedge politics, undermines social cohesiveness. With the 21st century environmental, social and security challenges setting in this is the worst of all times to be crippled with a sharply divided society.

I am glad that we see eye to eye on these things.

Anonymous said...

What is the link to the article on AlterNet?

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry about that missing link, Anon. I just added it to the first line of this piece. Thanks for pointing that out. cheers