In my latest reading of Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Undermining the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream, Arianna Huffington described the problem of the declining middle-class and tried to explain how we got to this situation.
I think that she did a good job in describing the problem, as she put into words people’s fears, cited statistics, and told people’s stories. Essentially, she painted a picture of children not making as much as their parents, of the elderly having to choose between food and their medication, and of people having to work at Walmart and McDonalds for minimum wage. She also talked about the shenanigans of companies that set up their headquarters overseas so that they can dodge unemployment insurance and taxes for Social Security and Medicare, thereby screwing their workers.
But, at least in what I have read so far, Arianna could have done a better job in explaining how we got to this point. She believes that Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts for the rich were a big part of the problem, and she argues that the 1980’s was a time when the wages of the middle-class became stagnant, even as the rich became richer. She does not agree with Reagan undermining the social safety net, and she also holds that the increasing trust in free-market capitalism during the 1980’s was problematic. But I wish that she explained more explicitly how exactly Reagan’s policies led to a stagnation of wages. I’m not saying that they didn’t, but I’d like to see the steps from “Reagan’s policies” to “the stagnation of wages”. Maybe she’ll get more into that as the book progresses.
On page 53, Arianna discusses such 1980’s phenomena as the polarization of labor into high and low-paying jobs at the expense of middle-wage jobs, technological changes, outsourcing, and the decline in manufacturing. She says that productivity was rising, but “the wages of the average worker remained flat” (page 53). Arianna appears to differ here from Mitt Romney, who holds that productivity leads to a better standard of living for many Americans. According to Arianna, that is not necessarily the case, at least for the average worker.