Web Only// Features » August 28, 2012
The Rich Really Are Different
Silver-spooners like Romney and Ryan have never experienced real fiscal insecurity–and their policies reflect it
Republicans like Ryan have decided relieving the deficit is more important than relieving uncertainty for the middle class.
The rich, those born sucking silver spoons like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, really are different from the middle class. The wealthy grow up and live their lives wrapped in security. That's what gives them the arrogance to organize a posse to hold down a fellow prep school student and chop off his hair, mock NASCAR fans' clothes and ridicule cookies offered by supporters. No matter what, Romney and Ryan will remain rich and secure.
By contrast, those born into poverty or the middle class live lives nagged by insecurity. They know their jobs could be offshored at any moment. They know their employers may raid their pensions in bankruptcy. Their major asset in life, their home, may have lost a third of its value when the Wall Street-inflated housing bubble burst. Rich would be great, but those born without trust funds work hardest just to attain a little security.
Last week, the Pew Research Center issued a report detailing how insecurity has increased for the middle class since 2000. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published a report predicting increased insecurity for the middle class if Congress takes no action on taxes and budget cuts within the next four months. A third report released last week, called Prosperity Economics, describes how to revive the economy and broaden security.
A true democratic republic, where the majority rules, would reverse the past decade's trend against the middle class, forestall the CBO prediction, and increase security for the masses. The silver spooners seeking the Oval Office have given no indication, however, that they intend to ease the uncertainty of the plastic spooners.
The Pew Research Center looked at how the middle class fared since 2000. In a word, it's badly. This is what Pew called its findings: “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier.” Here's how the center sums it up:
- Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some – but by no means all – of its characteristic faith in the future.
- Over the past 40 years, the percentage of adults in the middle class shrank from 61 to 51. Also, the rich seized a greater portion of the nation's household income. Their cut rose from 29 percent to 46. Almost all of that came from the middle class, whose share fell from 62 percent to 45.
- Similarly, the middle class suffered a 28 percent drop in wealth over the past decade, much of that in housing value.
The losses intensified middle-class insecurity. Those interviewed by the Pew researchers expressed pessimism. For America, which sees itself as the land of opportunity, this survey result is dispiriting: 29 percent of the middle class said hard work and determination no longer guarantee success for most people. The American Dream is dying.
Middle-class insecurity and gloom will worsen if Congress allows the country to fall off the fiscal cliff – if it fails to renew at least some tax cuts set to expire at year's end or temper scheduled budget cuts. The CBO, in its Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2012 to 2022, said if Congress does not change its current tax and spending plan, the United States will descend into recession again next year and unemployment will rise to 9 percent.
The budget cuts were demanded last year by House Republicans, led by Ryan, who refused to raise the nation's debt ceiling until they got a deal guaranteeing the budget slashing. President Obama has repeatedly sought money for infrastructure improvement and other job-creating projects to relieve unemployment and prevent a double dip recession, but Republicans have rebuffed him. They also have rejected his plan to renew middle class tax breaks while terminating the massively larger breaks for the rich.
Republicans like Ryan have decided relieving the deficit is more important than relieving uncertainty for the middle class. The perfect symbol of that is Ryan's plan to voucherize Medicare. Social Security and Medicare are beloved by the middle class because of the security they provide in retirement. Ryan's vouchers would end that security because they would dramatically increase costs for senior citizens. Ryan and his followers demand austerity for the middle class and tax cuts for the rich.
Austerity is not necessary, according to two Yale researchers. They offer an alternative, Prosperity Economics.
Jacob Hacker, a Yale professor and director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and Nate Loewentheil, a Yale law student, describe how to create a dynamic economy and foster a society “marked by greater health, broader security, increased equality of opportunity, and more broadly distributed growth.”
They believe in resurrecting the American Dream. While the middle class is losing faith, Hacker and Loewentheil say it doesn't have to be that way.
In their plan, everyone benefits, not just the silver spooners. It's not, however, a strategy likely to be adopted by austerity advocates Romney and Ryan, who have never experienced the pain of economic insecurity suffered by the plastic spoon class.
Full disclosure: The USW is an In These Times sponsor.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco's nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.