If you are in the middle or lower-middle class, then it’s possible that your status will remain that way, but it’s more likely that you’ll lose that status. If you’re already poor. then it’s highly likely that you will remain poor. Of course, there are great stories of people overcoming poverty to become great financial success stories, but it’s rare and is getter rarer. We may occasionally see economic wonks on the news tell us about how the middle class is shrinking, but do we truly understand this?
When we read or hear about the economic downturn, there’s a tendency to assume that the whole country is in this together; that fictional CEO, Reginald Bottomtooth, is taking a loss just like Johnny Punchclock. This is not true, and even if Reginald Bottomtooth did take a loss, then his big pain might be removing his kid from an elite private school or only taking two months of vacation time. When people say the middle class is shrinking, what they mean is the poor are getting poorer. But money doesn’t just disappear. Dollars don’t magically evaporate. There are people happily making heaps of dough, and the poorer and more desperate we become, the richer they get.
The harder the times, the more likely you are to let some factory take advantage of you. We’re told we’re lucky to have jobs in this economy, so we’re less likely to complain to that Johnson Controls manager that were tired and running on empty from working 12-hour shifts, 7 days a week, for a month straight. We get time-and-a-half because there are laws in place to keep companies from completely picking your bones, but what then? We take the one day off we have that month and take our families out and try to enjoy our lives. That means buying stuff, traveling and putting money back into the economy.
The average American CEO makes over 400 times more money that the average worker. They’re the ones getting the tax benefits. Since they have the money, they’re the ones controlling the political landscape. They’re the ones that tax loopholes are designed for because they’re the so-called “job creators.” Venture capitalist, Nick Hanauer, gave a mediocre TED talk earlier this year that had a very good central theme that businesses do not create jobs. Demand creates jobs. And we create demand. Then why do we act as if we are powerless? Why do we consistently vote against our own interests when it comes to taxes, health care, conservation and education?
Conservative millionaire politicians do not relate to the average American, so how do they get elected? Mitt Romney’s wife receives a tax deduction on her dressage horse that doubles the annual salary of the average American worker. The super wealthy can anonymously donate as much money to political campaigns as they see fit, and they are donating to the politicians that will give their companies the longest leash. On the flip side, these same politicians are the ones pushing for stricter voter ID laws because they fear anonymous voters but not anonymous money. And the voters who are least likely to have government issued IDs are poor minorities, which is not coincidentally the people who are least likely to vote for them.
The United States is not becoming a plutocracy, it is a plutocracy. Our lives and our politics are being dictated by the wealthiest people in the country. We need real campaign finance reform because money is polluting our system from top to bottom. Running for office without buckets of money is nearly impossible. And we need to stop imagining that the best politician for the job is the one who will do the least.