Sunday, May 15, 2016


It’s disappearing. That’s what. The middle class, as defined by families with an annual income from $35,000 to $100,000, is dwindling. In 1967, 53 percent on the American population fit into this category. By 2013 only 43 percent were in the middle income group.

It’s pretty common knowledge how this has come about. Good paying factory jobs have gone overseas or have been taken over by robots in this country. People with limited education have been particularly hard hit by this change in the economy. It has become difficult for them to find jobs, and when they are hired, the pay is much lower than it would have been in factory jobs in the past.

Younger people graduating from college face their own set of problems. They are saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, and it is not easy for them to find good jobs. Many young men and women in their late twenties, instead of setting out on their own, are moving back in with their parents.

The middle class is hurting. Not only has the quality of their lives been diminished, but the length of life itself is getting shorter. The life expectancy of Americans grew dramatically over the 20th century. It continues to grow in the current century—except for middle-aged whites. The people in this group are dying at a faster rate through an increase in suicides and problems related to substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of opioids. This is particularly true of people who had not gone to college.

For many in this group, the American Dream is a fantasy. Some bankers became obscenely rich through weird schemes which involved giving mortgages to people who would not be able make the payments. Then the bottom fell out as the Great Recession hit. Middle class people lost their jobs, their homes, and their health insurance, which was tied to those jobs. They looked to government for help, but they didn’t get it. Instead of working together, Congress and the White House were at odds. The Senate majority leader said that his main goal was to see that Obama would be a one-term president.

It should be no surprise then that embittered members of the middle class do not expect any help from government and reach to outsiders who can shake things up and get government working again. The problem is, these outsiders will not be able to keep the promises they have been making. Even though Bernie Sanders has been in the United States Senate for a long time, he is an outsider. He calls himself a Democratic Socialist. He was not even a member of the Democratic Party until he decided to run for the presidency. His proposals sound good to many people: Put tighter controls on the banks, make the super rich pay more taxes. Let all Americans who want to go to college. The difficulty is, these things don’t come about by fiat. They require the cooperation with Congress. How do you think the current Congress would respond to Bernie’s proposals?

Donald Trump may be intelligent (as he keeps telling people), but he is profoundly ignorant. As the owner of a vast real estate empire, he is not even answerable to a corporate board. It’s his money, and he can do whatever he wants with it. The President of the United States does not have that freedom. He is answerable to Congress, the Supreme Court, and the people of the United States. If the American people are unhappy with the president, he can be impeached.

Not only does Trump fail to recognize the limits of the president’s ability, he (Trump) doesn’t even seem to have a clear vision of how to accomplish any of the thing he calls for or to recognize what damage some of his proposals would do to the position of the United States in the world.

Since the malaise of the middle class arose from the elimination of good paying factory jobs, both Trump and Sanders have plans to fix it. Trump would start imposing high tariffs on goods imported from China. The problem with that is that China and other countries would retaliate by charging high tariffs on goods from the United States. It would lead to world-wide economic turmoil. In the end, it would do more harm than good to the American economy.

Sanders would stop international trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership., which he believe would result in sending more American jobs overseas.

The problem with both their views is that they want to take America back to some point in the past. Trump wants to “Make America Great Again.” And you can’t go back. The past that we remember with such nostalgia is gone. The world has been changed profoundly in the last quarter century by computers. Instead of looking toward the past, we need to look to the future where more computer-related jobs will be created. In the transition to that future, we need to help the middle class.

Think of the projects created by Franklin Roosevelt to help the country climb out of the Great Depression. These projects put millions of people to work and helped improve the country’s infrastructure. Under Eisenhower people were put to work creating America’s superhighways. The infrastructure today is in bad shape. Many of the country’s bridges are unsafe. We need to fix them, and we need to create jobs for the millions of people who have fallen out of the middle class.

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