THE CLOSING of the COMMONS
The New Enclosure Movement
Essentially “the American Dream” has always been a middle class dream. Thanks to carefully targeted government policy, the middle class has been systematically privileged and advantaged, while the lower classes lived under surveillance and were kept under control. Even in the Gilded Age, those glorious years before the hated personal income tax was ratified as a Constitutional amendment in 1913, aspirational Americans dreamed of owning their own farms or starting their own businesses or of finding a good job. Like “Liberty” and “Justice,” those dreams were The American Way.
But hiding behind those aspirations and fine words were government measures that worked in favor of the rich, making a mockery of sacred American words such as “equality” and “fairness.” It is the thesis of the latest book, The Betrayal of the American Dream, by Donald Bartlett and James Steele that it is not just the American Dream that has been “betrayed” but also that all of the Americans who are not rich have been betrayed. And even worse, these Americans have been betrayed by their fellow citizens, the very rich and the very powerful, who have essentially thrown them and their dreams under the bus…or the stretch limousine.
Indeed, the first chapter of The Betrayal of the American Dream is entitled “Assault on the Middle Class” and the account of the “assault” begins with a real person, Barbara Joy Whitehouse, one of the many people left behind in the stampede of the wealthy, in their urgency to help themselves, trampling over the rights and dignity of the ordinary person. One could say, “what else is new?” Or one could say, “This sounds familiar.” Or one could repeat the old adage, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” But, this kind of attitude of selfishness which rips the fabric of society apart is new and the disregard of the rich for the communal and historic social compact is relatively recent. Before entering into the weeds of this angry and informative book—how the American dream was betrayed—the presentation of a couple of charts might be in order.
The Contemporary Middle Class
First is the now famous chart of the “flatlining” incomes of the middle class since 1970 juxtaposed to the rising of upper class incomes. The blue line is the income of the Middle Class and the Red Line represents the wealth of the Upper Class. The blue line is evenly stretched out across four decades, staying consistent and flat, even while the prices on everything rose. The red line rises like a star, soaring to the skies of unbelievable wealth, charting an upward bound path towards more money than any one human being could ever spend. The source is CNN Money:
The next chart is the equally famous “Parfait Chart,” which shows different colored layers, demonstrating the “thickness” of the layer entitled “Tax Cuts for the Rich.” The much derided Recovery Plan, also known as “The Stimulus,” from the Obama administration is a tiny pale layer squashed under the Bush Gift to his “Base,” as he called his wealthy supporters. This chart is courtesy of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
These charts are classic illustrations of ideology, or how the government favors the interests of the dominant class. The rich prosper and everyone else pays for their gains or to be more precise, the 99% hand over their hard earned money to the 1% in order to encourage these individuals to, at some unspecified point in time, to trickle something down upon the poor. If the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, now twelve years old, are either increased or allowed to continue as the Republicans wish, the four year recovery from the Wall Street Crash is crushed and the debt continues to rise—along with the incomes of the rich. This parfait chart is instructive because it shows how marginal the Bush Wars (on the credit card) were compared to the Bush Giveaway to the most wealthy and the least needy in America. I present these charts for a reason, because these bright colors bring to mind another kind of economic map, literally a map that shows what happens when the the rich use government to take away from the lower classes. In the eighteenth century, this seizure of resources was called The Closing of the Commons or the Enclosure Movement.
The First Closing of the Commons
The chart above is actually a map of the Commons of an English village called Kibworth-Beauchamp, featured on the recent The Story of England, hosted by the incomparable Michael Wood. The Commons is land held in common by the people. The actual owner of the terrain is the squire of lord of the manor who, in an act of noblesse oblige, allows the people or the tenants who work the estate—the small farmers and the peasants—to have their own plots of farmland. The farmers planted and harvested as they wished and were allowed to keep the bounty for themselves. In the old days, this obligation to one’s tenants, inherited from the Feudal era, was a responsibility that came with wealth and privilege. The Lord and Lady took care of their own. As virtuous as it sounded, noblesse oblige was also smart public policy: it is easier to control contented workers than it is to quell discontented peasants. If both sides understand that the social and economic bargain is a two way street then the network of obligations of responsibilities becomes the warp and woof of social relations.
In a time of unlimited power of monarchs and aristocracy, this historical equalizing of the economic scales acted as a way to repay the peasants for their service, while at the same time tying these people to the land upon which they labored. According to Wood, these strips had been worked by the same families for generations. Each strip has an individual name; each strip had its own level of fertility. Some strips were less fertile or harder to work than others, while some were fertile and easy to farm. These strips were parceled out equally, so that on one family could benefit at the expense of others. Thus a rough equality of responsibility (if not income) that somewhat offset the imbalance of power was created. This age-old balance of power enabled the rich to placate the poor and gave hope to the nascent middle class, and, in England, staved off discontent and revolution. But this social agreement or this belief that everyone had obligations under the social conpact between the two classes came to a close during the eighteenth century.
In his article, “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of Public Domain,” James Boyle presented an old poem that raged against the Closing of the Commons.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.
The poor and wretched don’t escape If they conspire the law to break; This must be so but they endure Those who conspire to make the law.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.
The Closing of the Commons or the Enclosure Movement ended, rather abruptly, a centuries old set of legal and social customs pertaining to the balance between privilege and powerlessness. Nowhere is this “shock of the new” better illustrated than in Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews (1748). In her iconic description of this painting, art historian, Ann Bermingham, alludes to “agrarian change.” On one hand we see the accouterments of privilege: the pretty blue silk dress and dainty pink shoes of Frances Andrews and the flintlock rifle and dead game displayed by Robert Andrews. She does not have to labor and he has the inalienable right to hunt on his own property. But the background of the painting, the landscape view that made all of the attributes possible, tells a new story: the Closing of the Commons.
We see the Enclosure Movement stretched out behind the newly married couple. The absence of labor or the workers who serve the estate is palpable. The wide open Commons are fenced in, walled in, making Enclosures for sheep. The reasons for Enclosure during a hundred year period are complex and varied over time and place. In her article article “Jane Austen and the Enclosure Movement: the Sense and Sensibility of Land Reform,” Celia Easton pointed out that
Owners of large estates began enclosing their land when the market and transportation infrastructure made an acre of land devoted to raising sheep more valuable than an acre of land devoted to raising barley. Sheep herding had immediate advantages over farming: lower labor costs, less dependency on weather, and easier land management. Extreme climactic events and dis- ease did threaten the main capital investment—the sheep themselves—but large landowners were less affected by these threats than small landowners, since their sheep had access to larger pasturage and shelter from inclement conditions. None of the decisions to enclose land to raise sheep would have been made, however, without a market for wool and the roads on which to transport it.
What we are seeing in Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews is that the wool trade became more economically profitable and that the centuries of farming the same strips of the Commons had exhausted the land. As Easton stated, for centuries, the English government had restricted Enclosure or the desire of the upper classes to make a greater profit, to protect the lower classes, but by the eighteenth century, profit motives overtook moral obligations or social concerns, and the Commons were Closed, either by parliamentary means or by unilateral actions on the part of the landowner. In 1748, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews were on the cutting edge of Enclosure, slicing and dicing their lands and pushing the villagers off their ancestral lands. In other words, the land was outsourced to the sheep.
The Contemporary Closing of the Commons
The Closing of the Commons and the ultimate “betrayal” of the common people in the eighteenth century is similar to the “betrayal” Bartlett and Steele describe in their book. In our time, the post-World War II period, there were a series of government policies designed to raise the middle class, from the G. I. Bill to government projects, such as infrastructure to make interstate commerce more efficient—all of which elevated lower class white males (and their families) to the middle class. As seen in the photograph of Levittown above, it is true that these post-war laws were explicitly directed towards the white male population as a reward for their services in the War. Women and people of color were consciously left out of the post-war benefits boom and their war-time service were expressly not recognized. Both groups, the majority of the American population, were thus placed under the curse of “redlining,” and were denied loans for homes and entry into certain neighborhoods and access to certain jobs and schools.
But post-war government policy had a large and positive impact, creating an extended middle class with rising consumer power and rising incomes that allowed men and women to purchase the post-war avalanche of new commodities. But by 1970, a mere twenty years later, the party was over as outsourcing of good manufacturing jobs began, slowly at first, a trickle here and there, gradually widening into a stream, predicting the flood of jobs gushing towards Asia. Low and high skill manufacturing jobs (the usual domain of the white male) were shipped overseas where desperate workers did the same jobs at a fraction of the wages. The American worker and the middle class professional was left behind high and dry while the wealthy took advantage of law and tax policies they helped fashion to enrich themselves through outsourcing.
Ever since the Enclosure Movement, sociologists and economists have argued over whether or not the Closing of the Commons was theft from the people or whether, in the long, run the result was positive. Of course, as John Maynard Keynes pointed out, “in the long run, we are all dead,” and the long term benefits have proven to benefit one group, the rich, over the other group, those who work to make the rich richer. As in the eighteenth century, those in power have sloughed off the sense of responsibility while retaining the idea of privilege. Just as there was a refusal to accept age-old obligations two hundred years ago, today there are no thoughts of citizenship and no concern with giving back or paying forward for the greater good or the future of the nation. As the authors ot The Betrayal of the American Dream point out,
In our 1992 book America: What Went Wrong? we told the stories of people who were victims of an epidemic of corporate takeovers and buyouts in the 1980s. We warned that by squeezing the middle class, the nation was heading toward a two-class society dramatically imbalanced in favor of the wealthy. At the time, the plight of middle-class Americans victimized by corporate excess was dismissed by economists as nothing more than the result of a dynamic market economy in which some people lose jobs while others move into new jobs—“creative destruction…”
The issues now, as they were in the two centuries of the Enclosure Movement, is not the “creation” of new ways of making wealth but the “destruction” of the old ways and the impact of the “betrayal.” Most importantly, when it is asked who benefits from these economic changes, it becomes clear the the so-called “creativity” which benefits certain individuals also results in a destruction of the lives of the masses who cannot live long enough to benefit from future largesse. The result of the Enclosure Movement was a disconnect between the people and the land—Bermingham calls the effect “alienation.” The landowners severed the ancient obligations of the squire, and the peasants were separated from the land that they had long regarded as “theirs” to the extent that they named their plots.
Globalism and the Abandonment of the Land
Today, Globalization has become the new Enclosure Movement. In the process of moving towards a new international economy—and this is a point that Bartlett and Steele did not emphasize—the rich Americans, like American corporations, have less and less connection to their own nation: their wealth is global and consequently their interests or their fealties are international. The result is a waning of patriotism or a connection to the land (America) and the people who live in the land (America). It has been said by many political commentators, such as Matt Taibbi (Griftopia and The Great Derangement) and Chrsytia Freeland (Plutocrats), that the new wealthy class is not American, they are citizen of the globe who merely happen to live in America. As global citizens, these mega-rich people have no obligation to America and therefore have no compunction about “betraying the American dream.”
Today, money (whether virtual or real) has replaced land as the major source of wealth. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, wealth came from ownership of businesses or corporations that were local that had and depended upon a symbiotic relationship between the communities and the laborers. Henry Ford understood that his workers needed to earn enough money in his factories to buy the cars they made. In the twenty-first century, this common sense understanding that labor and management had needs in common and that their relationships was reciprocal has dissolved. In fact an aerial photograph of homes in the Hamptons looks remarkably like the Enclosure Movement in action. The coast and the sea is all privately owned and controlled and enclosed.
Breaking the Social Bonds
But the sources of money in our century are global and not local. The global workers are speechless and powerless citizens of totalitarian nations which are in league with American corporations. Management does not manage workers; managers manage the income or the wealth of the company. American workers have been fired, outsourced and disenfranchised, losing their jobs, their futures and their governmental representation. As Bartlett and Steele write,
At a time when the federal government should be supporting its citizens by providing them with the tools to survive in a global economy, the government has abandoned them. It is exactly what members of the ruling class want. The last thing they want is an activist government—a government that behaves, let’s say, the way China’s does. Their attitude is “let the market sort it out.” The market has been sorting, and it has tossed millions out of good-paying jobs. Now that same ruling class and its cheerleaders in Congress are pushing mightily for a balanced budget at any cost. If it happens, it will be secured mostly by taking more out of the pockets of working people, driving yet another nail into the middle-class coffin. The economic elite have accomplished this by relentlessly pressing their advantage, an advantage that exists for the simplest of reasons: the rich buy influence.
The goals of a corporation are short term: make money now and don’t worry about the future. Or to put it another way—the corporations are no longer linked to a nation so they don’t have any stake in the people of any country. In other words, the relative ability of the American middle class to buy corporate products or commodities is irrelevant to the international business. The only relevancy is profit. It is a moral imperative to corporations that there is no higher good than higher profits. Hiring American workers is expensive: American wages are higher than in most Asian countries and, unlike European countries, American businesses are expected to provide health care benefits and manage retirement accounts. No sane profit-minded corporation would hire American workers when Asian workers could be hired at a fraction of the cost. The free market is free of responsibility and of allegiance to one’s flag. As the authors point out,
Corporate executives contend that they are forced to relocate their operations to low-wage havens to remain competitive. In other words, their domestic workers earn too much. Never mind that manufacturing wages are lower in the United States than in a dozen other developed countries.
But Bartlett and Steele are also interested in telling the story of how the wealthy have been able to not only remove the sources of their income from American shores but also how the wealthy protect their wealth. It is not just that the very rich and powerful have moved the jobs out of reach of the worker, it is they have also removed their money out of the reach of the government. And the government or the politicians have allowed the rich to strip America of the money the nation has earned for them. As Bartlett and Steele charge, the wealthy “lack a moral or civic compass” and are “without a purpose beyond its own perpetuation with no mission except to wall in the money within its ranks.” A case in point would be a Birkin bag that was auctioned off in 2011 for over $200,000: the cost of a modest middle class home in a modest Midwestern state or the amount of four middle class incomes.
That the purse costs as much as a home–and that home is probably in the hands of a bank that has foreclosed and refuses to refinance–raises the question of how much money is “enough?” Is the opportunity to own such an object so important that the possession overrides morality or common sense or American values? The authors assert that America has ceased to be a democracy and has, over time, devolved into a “plutocracy” in which the common people are not so much ruled by the rich as they are exploited by the rich. The rich can’t be bothered to be part of the government; it is easier to buy politicians to enact laws and rules that benefit their one driving desire—to accumulate money, more money, and then even more money.
Ironically, it was Wall Street that disclosed the emergence of the American plutocracy. As early as 2005, a global strategist at Citigroup, Ajay Kapur, and his colleagues coined the word “plutonomy.” They used it in an internal report to describe any country with massive income and wealth inequality. Among those countries qualifying for the title: the United States. At the time, the top 1 percent of U.S. households controlled more than $16 trillion in wealth—more than all the wealth controlled by the bottom 90 percent of the households. In their view, there really was no “average consumer,” just “the rich” and everyone else. Their thesis: “capitalists benefit disproportionately from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor,” a conviction later confirmed by America’s biggest crash since the Great Depression. The very rich recovered quite nicely. Most everyone else is still in the hole.
Indeed, we of the middle class are more than likely to stay in “the hole.” Bartlett and Steele made the case that,
Only once before in American history, the nineteenth-century era of the robber barons, has the financial aristocracy so dominated policy and finance. Only once before has there been such an astonishing concentration of wealth and power in an American oligarchy. This time it will be much harder to pull the country back from the brink. What is happening to America’s middle class is not inevitable. It’s the direct result of government policy, and it can be changed by government action.
It is important to realize to what an extent the moneyed class has become the equivalent of absentee landlords in the eighteenth century. The middle class is simply unimportant to them, their plans, their goals.
Despite obligatory comments about the importance of the middle class and why it should be helped, America’s ruling class doesn’t really care. They’ve moved on, having successfully created through globalization a world where the middle classes in China and India offer them far more opportunities to get rich.
In addition, Bartlett and Steele map out the thinking of corporate America. The “job creators” understand that there is a trade off between providing jobs for Americans or for the Indians and piously decided that it is good and righteous to elevate the inhabitants of Madras instead. The name of the game is “creative destruction” as jobs are created in China and are destroyed in America.
The result is a huge transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy in this country, as well as to workers in China, India, and other developing nations. No one wants to deny people in those countries the right to improve their lot, but the price of uplifting them has been borne almost entirely by American workers, while in this country the benefits have flowed almost exclusively to a wealthy super-elite. Globalization was peddled on the basis that it would benefit everyone in this country. It hasn’t, and it won’t as long as current policies prevail.
The phrase “has been borne almost entirely by” used by Bartlett and Steele is one that can also be applied by the tax code: it is the middle class that pays the price of globalization and it is the middle class that pays the taxes that pay for America. And it is not just the rich individuals who refuse to pay their fare share it is also the corporations who similarly refuse to pay their taxes.
One explanation for the tax burden on middle America is that for years U.S multinational corporations have refused to bring home billions of dollars they’ve earned on overseas sales because they don’t want to pay taxes on those profits. Sitting in banks in the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Singapore, and other tax-friendly jurisdictions is a staggering amount of money—an estimated $2 trillion, a sum equal to all the money spent by all the states combined every year, or more than half the size of the annual federal budget.
The Un-Freedom of the “Free Market”
We are told by the ruling class–or their mouthpieces, the politicians–that the “free market” is at work, that no laws have been broken, and that any regulations on the free market would be a disaster. However, what is not said is that the market is not a level playing field–the market is not free, it is fixed, it a rigged game, the market is Vegas where the house always wins and the weekend punters always loose.
Ultimately, the rule-makers in Washington determine who, among the principal players in the U.S. economy, is most favored, who is simply ignored, and who is penalized. In the last few decades, the rules have been nearly universally weighted against working Americans. That a huge wealth gap exists in this country is now so widely recognized and accepted as fact that most people have lost track of how it happened. One of the purposes of this book is to show how the gap became so huge and to explain why it was no accident. Over the last four decades, the elite have systematically rewritten the rules to take care of themselves at everyone else’s expense.
The myth of the Free Market is just that—a Myth. As the authors point out, Germany and Japan and European countries such as France protect their citizens against the ravages of the market. In American we decry “protectionism” in the names of American corporations who want to sell American products abroad. The middle class wants, we are told, the ability to purchase “cheap” televisions from South Korea, but as Bartlett and Steele point out the trade between America and its trading partners is not free: their workers are protected; ours are not. The result is that American cars are a luxury in China and cost around $100,000. Europe and Asia are simply not big markets for American cars which, at home, must compete with Toyotas, et. at.
Unfair competition that benefits the rich and forces the workers and the poor to take the hit has been going on ever since travel and technology made globalization possible.
What is different today is that a company can go under or “fail,” regardless of competition or profitability. All it needed is for a company to be swooped down upon by a corporate raider intent on a “hostile takeover.” Indeed in their description of what a private equity company, like Bain, does to a business, the authors state that the vulture-like investors argue that the elimination of companies and jobs forces a greater efficiency and thus benefits the “economy.” Bad CEOs are removed, unproductive workers are sent away, they argue and everyone benefits and the nation as a whole is served. But Sensata, a company with record profits, was suddenly swallowed up and closed down by Bain Capital and the jobs and equipment are being shipped to China—all in the name of a greater profit. So we ask? Who Benefits? Which economy? Their or ours? While using the word “economy,” the corporate executives seem to imply the American economy, but what they really mean is that their personal economic positions are improved on the global stage.
The managers of the largest equity and hedge funds have become immensely wealthy—many are billionaires—even though some of the companies they bought and sold later foundered. In addition to the rich fees they harvest, private equity fund managers rake in millions more courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. Thanks to Congress, a portion of their annual income is taxed at 15 percent (rather than 35 percent) under an obscure provision called “carried interest.” This puts that income in the same tax bracket occupied by the janitors who clean their buildings. Using the proceeds from their deals and the money they save on taxes, private equity and hedge fund managers have lavish lifestyles featuring multiple residences, private planes, and ostentatious parties.
As David Stockman described in The Great Deformer, meanwhile the companies seized by Bain-like companies, loaded down with debt and gutted and left for dead, cannot be more “efficient” because the investors/looters have pocketed all the money. Stockman, once Ronald Reagan’s economic budget guru, pointed out the not only does wealth not trickle down, the kind of wealth won by investment capital is not a win-win proposition—the investor wins by destroying a healthy company and displacing thousands of American workers and gutting hundreds of American towns. The wealthy, the authors write, are able to buy not just Congress and other key members of the government, but are also purchasing so-called “experts,” academics in supposedly intellectual “think tanks,” which are well paid for their so-called “reports” on the economy. Writing of the fabulously rich Koch Brothers who fund any number of right-wing causes, Bartlett and Steele said,
The Kochs have contributed $12.7 million to candidates (91 percent Republican) since 1990 and spent more than $60 million on lobbying Washington in the last decade. But their greatest impact is the millions they have poured into foundations, think tanks, and front groups to mold public opinion in their favor by promoting positions that in almost every case benefit the few. The rise of these conservative think tanks and foundations directly coincides with the economic decline of the middle class. Among the more prominent of these organizations are the Cato Institute, which Charles cofounded in 1974, and Americans for Prosperity, which David launched in 2004 as a successor to a similar group that he had helped found earlier called Citizens for a Sound Economy. Dozens of other groups receive Koch money at the national or regional level. In early 2012, a rift developed between the Kochs and Cato, sparking litigation by the Kochs and charges by Cato president Ed Crane that Charles Koch was trying to gain full control of the think tank to advance his “partisan agenda.” The environmental group Greenpeace, which in 2010 examined just one issue on the Kochs’ agenda—their efforts to discredit scientific data about global warming—identified forty organizations to which the Koch foundations had contributed $24.9 million from 2005 to 2008 to fund what Greenpeace called a “climate denial machine.”
In fact, after the release of the documentary Inside Job, the outcry against economists clearly caught in conflict of interest situations was so loud that the profession briefly flirted with setting ethics standards for itself. Embarrassed, the American Economic Association schedule a session on ethics in its 2011 meetings in Denver. As The Economist pointed out,
You might assume that economists already disclose their links to organisations. But when economists write articles for the opinion pages of newspapers and magazines, appear on television to discuss matters of economic policy or testify before parliamentary committees, the audience is often unaware of their non-academic affiliations. A study by Gerald Epstein and Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, looked at how 19 prominent academic financial economists who were part of advocacy groups promoting particular financial-reform packages in America described themselves when they wrote articles in the press. Most had served as consultants to private financial firms, sat on their boards, or been trustees or advisers to them. But in articles written between 2005 and 2009 many never mentioned these affiliations, and most of the rest did so only sporadically and selectively. Readers may have assumed they had more distance from the industry than was in fact the case.
Can This Country Be Saved?
The authors of The Betrayal of the American Dream, who have watched the American economy for years, end their book with a plan to remedy the current situation.
Over the last four decades, public policies driven by the economic elite have moved the nation even further away from the broad programs that helped create the world’s largest middle class, to the point that much of that middle class is now imperiled. The economic system that once attempted to help the majority of its citizens has become one that favors the few. Not everyone in the middle class who pursued the American dream expected to get rich. But there was a bedrock sense of optimism. Most people felt that life was good and might get better, that their years of dedication to a job would be followed by a livable, if not comfortable, retirement, and that the prospects for their children and the generations to follow would be better than their own.
The writers lay out a series of reforms that they think are necessary to save the middle class. From reforming the tax code which as been written to favor the wealthy to policing the financial markets to providing Keynesian stimulus to rebuild the infrastructure—all of the se suggestions are common sense and all are doomed to failure, unless the voters demand otherwise. Bartlett and Steele suggest that
Middle-class Americans, still the largest group of voters, must put their own economic survival above partisan loyalties and ask four simple questions of any candidate who wishes to represent them: 1. Will you support tax reform that restores fairness to personal and corporate tax rates? 2. Will you support U.S. manufacturing and other sectors of the economy by working for a more balanced trade policy? 3. Will you support government investment in essential infrastructure that helps business and creates jobs? 4. Will you help keep the benefits of U.S. innovation within the United States and work to prevent those benefits from being outsourced? The choices we make in the candidates we elect and the programs and policies we support will set the direction of the country.
It will be difficult for Americans to put country before party to look past ideology to find facts, for as Thomas Frank pointed out in his 2004 book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives won the Heart of America, Americans can be counted on to vote against their own best interests. His argument, hotly contested by some writers, is that class interests, i. e. money, has been replaced by ethnic interests, i. e., race. Lower and middle class white people have been persuaded that their interests are aligned with those of the upper classes who will—in their own good time—”trickle” their gains “down” to the deserving few. Someday, they are assured “the job creators” will return the jobs they have shipped overseas. Sadly those jobs are not coming back and the Middle Class must start standing up for itself. As The Betrayal of the American Dream concludes,
What’s at stake is not only the middle class, but the country itself. As the late U.S. Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis once put it: “We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have democracy. But we cannot have both.”
One this is sure, only the middle class can help itself; no one else will.
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
The Arts Blogger