The Political Left Is Deconstructing The Middle Class
A lasting legend from Russia’s Communist Revolution illustrates the attitude of the Progressive Left toward the middle class: the examination of rounded up citizens by the revolutionaries. If a captive’s hands weren’t calloused, he was executed. That doesn’t fit America; better to enlist the citizens in the deconstruction. Though slower than the Russian approach, that hasn’t proven difficult; the left's programs are popular with voters.
America’s middle class is a historical anomaly, a result of combining British government and jurisprudence; classical liberalism; a disparate stream of immigrants and an entire new, unexploited; and a lightly governed continent where the prior occupants were no barrier. Add to that an industrial revolution. Though seldom discussed in public now, the resulting huge, educated, propertied, and politically powerful middle class is seen from the left as an obstacle, an impediment to the reshaping of American society desired by Progressives. In short, it accumulates and retains too much of the political power, property, and wealth that Progressives prefer in the hands of government.
Progressives see property and control seated more appropriately in the collective, and not limited by Judeo-Christian "middle-class" values like private property and personal responsibility. Such ideas are bedrock for the middle class but a bane for Progressives; Progressives approve of limits for individuals, but not for government. However, Christian values have faded rapidly since the 1960s, reducing middle-class cohesion and thereby lubricating social and economic class dissolution.
Examination of Progressive programs shows middle-class reduction as a common if unstated theme under either political party. The process, deliberate and continuous, intends to return America to the historical social structure; a few wealthy and a lot of proletarians so as to concentrate wealth and power in government. The enduring illusion denies that the proletarians will be serfs. The dissolution of middle America, underway for decades, is now becoming visible. The process reflects worldwide as well as domestic economic and political changes and seems irreversible, short of a revolution.
The earliest widely visible evidence of middle-class economic decline was the return of housewives to the workforce, trumpeted by the left as a feminist victory. In fact, the change showcased deterioration in family incomes and increased the burdens of men, women, and children. In doing that, it also relegated children and family to lesser importance. When both parents work outside the home, that home receives a lesser priority. Children, whose care requires more money and effort with mom at work, become greater economic liabilities.
Taxation seems a major cause of declining family incomes: the cost of government has risen to exceed 30 percent of the national income, as the Tax Foundation explains. Another factor has been the decline in the purchasing power of the dollar that tends to offset rising wages. Money policy hits the middle hard; a brand new $750 1937 Chevrolet remains an unarguable illustration. More than 98% of a 1937 dollar’s purchasing power is gone today, inflated away. Social Security is necessary when government makes it impossible to save enough for retirement, an inescapable result of inflation and of high taxes. Now we see Social Security spending in deficit; whether that leads to lower pensions, higher taxes, or both, the middle class will take the bulk of the hit. Medicare is the same story. The middle-class share of national income has been declining for years.
The additional income of working women has proven a lesser boon than hoped; some of it goes to work-related expenses and previously unneeded child care. Middle-class families have lost much by sending Mom off to work. Weakening the family strengthens the State; power is a zero-sum game.
Female contraception, heavily promoted from the left, has accelerated both family decline and massive abortion at the expense of Christianity and those middle-class values. That’s demonstrated by the changes in the American divorce rate during the last century. Increased access to both divorce and abortion has been a goal of the left. Given the left’s predilection for "helping" blacks, it is notable that black divorce and abortion rates now vastly exceed those of others. Whether this has been truly helpful seems a fair question.
Now consider some ongoing programs. First, immigration. Both parties are fiercely committed to continued illegal immigration for cheap Hispanic labor and prospective voters; an illegal invasion is surging in response. The U.S. public polls highly negative on this issue, by about 2:1 favoring immigrants returning home. Our governors are disregarding the citizens’ preferences. Even American labor unions that complain of the cheap competition complain for the record but do little to alter the situation. There seems small doubt that competition from cheap labor caps U.S. living standards, while the government’s constant inflation raises the cost of living. U.S. labor has seen its wages stagnate and begin to decline as the middle class shrinks. It is notable that government employment appears insulated from this.
Encouraging immigration is not the only program pushing the middle down; competition from cheaper producers worldwide has forced U.S. producers to emigrate and take middle-class jobs with them. Government regulation and union-driven labor costs have priced the U.S. out of the newly international market for many goods, and workers are also seeing themselves replaced by robots. Energy policy costs also attack the standard of living. Add that ObamaCare is reducing hours and benefits for some workers, and the result has been that too much of recent employment is part-time and low-paid work insufficient to support middle-class life. The effect is compounded by the dropping numbers of employable adults remaining in the workforce. The ex-workers still exist; their cost, and that of the young now finding jobs scarce, are economic burdens for families.
The government has quietly recognized declining middle-class wealth by reducing the middle’s share of income taxes paid. “Soak the rich” is good politics (if poor economics) and recognizes the reality: you can’t get blood from a turnip. Obviously, though, this has not much offset the decline of middle-class wealth.
Another aspect of this is declining opportunity. The Cato Institute’s Index of Economic Freedom has dropped the United States from third place after Hong Kong and Singapore in 2001 to seventeenth in 2011. That is a severe decline in only a decade, and it hits directly at the small business that’s the province of the middle class. Wall Street entrepreneurs who support politicians are less constrained.
Workforce quality is part of this, too; U.S. workers are offered only an "average" education in present world rankings. Not too long ago, the U.S. ranked first in the world. Progressive educators have made it clear since the 1930s that public education is intended to turn out obedient, useful proletarians, not highly educated (and likely troublesome) thinkers. It is evident that while politicians complain of the educational decline, they do nothing whatever to change it. America now spends more than other industrialized countries for worse results. But the teachers’ unions oppose any useful changes, and the politicians generally leave things as they are, though Governors Jindal in Louisiana and Walker in Wisconsin remain outstanding and heavily opposed exceptions. A reasonable question arises: if most of the jobs are low-pay and part-time, why overeducate? That is, of course, an argument of the status quo.
Currently, the government issues H-1b visas to thousands of technically educated foreign workers who come to the U.S. for jobs that, depending upon whom one believes, qualified, unemployed Americans thereby lose – or not, because such Americans don’t exist. In any case, these imported workers are said to lower U.S. wages by (you guessed it) working for less than Americans would. Lots more of them are expected; we note that the big high-tech employers who hire them are notable contributors to politicians. These as well as illegal immigrants are helping to reduce the U.S. living standard – but we can’t blame them for competing.
A badge of admission to especially the upper-middle class has been a college education, and at one time, “working one’s way through college” was so common it became a punch line. But that has been replaced with student loans; graduation is now entry into indentured servitude. Too many of such borrowings linger into default. Worse than that, too many college degrees fail to produce decent incomes. What’s the future for graduates in liberal arts or women’s studies today, already burdened with $30,000 of student loan debt? Folks joked about gas station attendants with Ph.D.’s during the Great Depression. But we don’t have gas station attendants anymore, and if we did, they’d likely be immigrants.
As any with awareness should recognize, the left today intends us to live crowded together in smaller spaces with less stuff, on simpler diets and driving smaller cars while using more public transportation and a lot less energy. Or put another way, to live in increasing poverty. That is happening. At the same time, our governors are awarding themselves much more information and control of our affairs while restricting the scope of our individual decisions. Americans can’t compete anymore, so we are being impoverished back into competition with the rest of the world. We’ve forgotten that we worked our way out of poverty by the efforts of free and creative individuals unrestricted by government, the opposite of our present direction. If you appreciate irony, note that both the rise and the present descent of the American middle class have been heralded as “progress.”
It has been millennia since Esau’s ancient bargain, yet we still sell our birthrights for bowls of watery government stew, produced at our expense. And it pleases the Progressives.