Posted on August 30th, 2010
Even if we accept the US (political and financial elites backed by media and academia) ubiquitous PR campaign, to project the image that upward mobility is the dream, scholarly studies by individual academics and think tanks for the last three decades indicate that there has been downward mobility in America, spreading to the rest of the world with some exceptions. Global outsourcing under neo-liberal policies has resulted in a shrinking middle class likely to shrink more in this decade in the US and EU.
(Earl Wysong, 2007, Levy and Murnane, 1992; Karoly, 1993; Duncan, Rodgers, Smeeding, 1991 and 1992; http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2006/06poverty_booza.aspx)
In March 2009, I issued a posting on WAIS entitled “Twilight of the Middle Class,” where I argued that the middle class in most of the world has been created on paper owing to the credit economy. When I presented the same point last spring as a guest speaker at a Greek university conference dealing with issues of international political economy, no one in the audience was surprised that indeed the middle class was built on a mound of debt under an unsustainable global (public and private) credit economic structure designed to keep wealth concentrated. People know where they stand versus the image they project, a dream that the political and financial are projecting while constantly working to make the social pyramid even narrower.
The larger question today is should the six-point criteria developed by individuals who want to perpetuate consumerism be the basis of the American Dream, or should there be an re-examination of peoples’ values in the wake of this prolonged global recession–and I mean all people, not just the middle class that constitutes the popular base of bourgeois political parties? Are these the values America wants to continue exporting to the rest of the world so it can strengthen finance capitalism at the expense socioeconomic chasm and social polarization from which arise extreme right wing elements? Is the essence of humanity predicated on the six points mentioned above? In the US government report, there was no mention of creativity, no mention of empathy in thought and deed for one’s fellow man, no mention of protection of nature, no mention of philosophical/spiritual self-reflection, no mention of greater social equality or collectivist action that alleviates suffering of the vast majority, no mention for lessening societal and institutional violence. America is becoming more polarized, and Europe is following in its footsteps as indicated by race riots in England, anti-gypsy sentiment in France, xenophobia in Italy, and of course America’s Beck and Palin backed by the extreme Christian right promising a slice of Heaven to “Real Americans.” The Obama administration needs to appoint a task force to reexamine what values it should be peddling to the American people and the world. At 4% of the world population, the US consumes roughly one-quarter of the world’s resources, but a mere 1% of the population owns 35% of the wealth. Is there a future for a growing middle class (the realization of the American Dream and the avoidance of sociopolitical polarization) under such wealth concentration?