American Middle Class Ranks 27th. “USA! USA” (Foam Finger Edition)

by Matthew Payne on June 20, 2013Comments Off

Ruined home in Youngstown, Ohio

It has long been the position of this blog that much of American life is run as a cynical grift by feral elites in which the goal is to corrupt every single institution to the benefit of their own enrichment and everybody else’s impoverishment (not a solitary view).  It is simply obviously the case that the American economic and political system is bad for the average person’s prosperity and has been ever since the advent of neo-liberalism in the Reagan and Clinton years.  Despite all the marketing around the American Dream, the reality is that we have a progressively economically-stressed society and, with the complete collapse of the Bubble Economy, a profound crisis in the economic well-being of all but a very tiny and largely predatory elite.  American economic and political arrangements are about as good for the average person as McDonalds is healthy eats and BP is good for the environment–clever PR don’t reality make.

Although we have sophisticated economic defenses of this reality (economist Greg Mankiw pretending it’s all about Steve Jobs and not Bank of America) and atavistic screeds of congressional social Darwinists in its Ayn Rand coloration, economic policy and the political system that designs it is very definitely and purposefully creating this new “Gilded Age” (which ain’t so gilded for most people–See George Packer’s new The Unwinding).  And really, the liberals can spare me any claims that they are different.  Whether one is Labor or Tory, Conservative or Socialist, Democrat or Republican, the push is for low tax rates on capital, high consumption taxes on labor, “austerity” to dismantle social welfare and “reform” to strip people of earned benefits while conducting a relentless attack on labor rights.  This consensus of what Krugman calls “the Very Serious People” is an elite consensus without any popular support.  Trust me, if anyone speaks to you about “reform”–grab your wallet.  It is a great “structural reform” which, in fact, is a sort of Pinochet-lite formula and has been openly articulated here by JP Morgan.  Sure, why not subvert democracy to make nations more tractable for capital?  As the banksters point out (care of Leigh Philips’ Austerityland),

The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience. Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left-wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism.

Yeah, bummer the anti-fascists had so much influence after Mussolini, Franco, Salazar and the Greek junta.  So let’s just change their constitutions, undermine labor rights, and usurp their parliaments by implementing strong executives (I’m not making this up–click the link).  As a blueprint for Citigroup’s “plutonomy” not even the Russian Oligarchs under Yeltsin were so bold and open about their contempt for political democracy as the “very serious people” (pro tip, the structure they’re reforming is your right to political agency).  And what has the recent G-8 summit taught us–we should have more of the economic policies that have hammered the American and European middle classes (complete with that great fail of a politician, Angela Merkel, lecturing the only pro-stimulus politician, Prime Minister Abe of Japan on getting the austerity going!).

Well, no one should be surprised that sophisticated studies prove what has long been evident and long obscured by political rhetoric, the famed American middle-class is a rather paltry beast.  The median income of Americans is ranked 27th in the world (break out the foam fingers, “USA!” “USA!).   Americans’ median wealth (38k) is dwarfed by the UK’s (115k), and is even surpassed by Cyprus (40k).  Oh, and perennial “sick man of the G-8″ (Japan) is doing pretty well on median wealth with 141k.  To be clear on these statistics, the US has 50% of its population with less than $38,000 in total wealth while Japan has 50% with more than triple that number.  Yeah, the United States of Freaking America is a model to export, if you want more of your population living under bridges (Hello, Greece!).  Having seen its wealth decline in the Great Recession and its wages head south, it is barely hanging on.  Other economies (China and Brazil) have been far more successful in alleviating poverty and raising people to the middle-class in the last generation, while the United States and Europe see an “internal devaluation” which is really a decline in the standard of living (wee!! we caught up to Madmen).  All this talk about “America is Not in Decline” is errant bullshit (except, apparently, when it comes to militarism).  This generation is less prosperous than the previous generation, which was less prosperous than its predecessor.  This despite the fact that the American economy is far more productive and far richer, with its workforce far more educated and skilled, than it has ever been before.  Clearly, the answer to this state of affairs is to cut funding for public education to build more prisons, subsidize more circuses, unleash ever larger “free trade” pacts and insist on ever harsher protectionism to protect corporate interests–excuse me, “encourage entrepreneurialism.”  That these policies are literally causing more people to die is a matter of complete indifference to your so-called “democratic leaders” (in America, not so much (House of Representatives edition).  Really, it ain’t a democracy folks (Senate version) and, by any measure, a pretty warped republic (where secret laws=”transparency”)).

The cynic in me believes that this is not only an open conspiracy to benefit the Robber Barons (yeah, you try to cheat the IRS like Apple doestheir money has no homeland, apparently it’s just like Marx’s proletariat!–see how that works out for you), but a political project.  It is no secret that the Powell memorandum proposed measures to deal with what Powell and others at the Chamber of Commerce thought was an uppity middle- and working class, measures that have largely been adopted and got Powell appointed to the Supreme Court.  And the recent rise of a middle-class in Russia, Turkey and Brazil has certainly led to mass protests against the endemic authoritarianism, corruption, police brutality of their regimes.  A secure working class and growing middle class has always demanded an end of unrestricted grifting and a respect for personal dignity (thus the “Age of Revolution” c. 1776-1848) long since enervated in the US; America has a social pyramid more fitting for a banana republic than a civilized society and what it laughingly calls “a rule of law” which protects official criminality and criminalizes private conscience, is a farce.

The world should reject what Obama is selling, at the G-8 or elsewhere. ”Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them.”  America talks peace while fomenting war, it talks democracy while undermining the people’s rule in one realm after another, it talks prosperity while erecting the instruments of universal poverty.  No advanced nation should be buying America’s snake oil, whether sold by a faux cowboy or a pseudo-constitutional lawyer.  It is not Americans alone selling this snake oil (funny how Obama feels most comfortable with Tories and German Conservatives–he really is a Reagan Republican) and some snake oil is much more virulent than other brands, but it all amounts to vanishing cream–to shrink that troublesome middle class.