Wednesday, July 06, 2011

What the Middle Class Loses the Upper Class Keeps

Today's must-read is a New York Times article about how the richest bankers and corporate heads are paying themselves better in this recession than they earned before they helped tank the economy and we bailed them out.

Also, Mother Jones reports on how American workers work harder and longer for less money than they earned a generation ago. Not a good thing, unless you own instead of working for a living.

The Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch's Republican Party newspaper, is reporting that workers who once could expect to earn more and have greater job security as they gained experience, skills and efficiency, now earn less and have less job security as they get past 40. The opposite of how it worked in Eisenhower's America.

Note that the WSJ's solution is to pour more of your earnings into Wall Street (boosting stock prices and executive bonuses and options, while skimping on the middle class "good life"). Was this negative trend part of a long range Republican plan? I don't think they achieved this by accident.

American workers have always been proud of producing more goods and services and doing so better and quicker and therefore earning more for it. It's enabled them to join the middle class, own homes, send children to college and retire comfortably. It also enabled them to be better consumers, which made a lot of businesses more prosperous. A broad prosperity is a more durable prosperity. This was the model until 1980, when the Reagan Revolution changed the formula.

The model since 1980 has been for workers to produce more goods and services better and quicker... but earn the same, or often less, for doing so. Since 1980 the prosperity of people who work and produce has not been considered prosperity at all, it's been relabeled a negative, a debit, a burden, a liability, a cost.

The wages of average workers have remained flat or declined since 1980. This was part of the Reagan Revolution too, but something a lot of people didn't realize they were voting for. This "doing down" has crossed over into the public sphere as well, where the temporary upper bracket tax cuts are sacred but the middle and working class tax cuts and benefits are negotiable and easily taken away, and now, as a finishing touch, middle class public employees are losing their rights and their job security. The job security in the public sector was something that allowed government to pay lower wages, but now security is gone too. Ironically, the savings are being shared out very narrowly to the very rich, with burdens shifted simultaneously onto the middle class.

Prosperity and security have become a narrow right, an upper class right, as was the case before the Great Depression. The real "gift" of Reaganomics is a new aristocracy and a growing servant class. The shift we are seeing is "validated" by Republican mathematics, which puts middle class prosperity in the cost column and upper class prosperity in the profit column, one bad and to be avoided, the other a sacred good to be protected. We need to change the math. It isn't fuzzy, as one Republican once said; it's actually crystal clear, but it's wrong, it's unfairly weighted, its values are skewed toward the values we revolted against in 1776. Ironically, the Republicans are using pictures from the 1950s, the broad prosperity they are destroying, to advertise the new narrower economics that benefits only their richest clients. Un-rich Republicans will receive their reward in heaven, supposedly.

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