We’ve all watched in wonder, or perhaps disgust, as our politicians continue to perseverate and grandstand about their “concerns” for such macroeconomic abstractions as the growing federal debt and the intricacies of process that must be considered before embarking upon a program of job creation for the massive and growing numbers of the unemployed. These politicians seem to be very busy at the moment. Busy doing nothing.
Meanwhile, back in Gotham City, our friends and neighbors are even more busy as they battle with the dual realities of actual joblessness and an utter lack of assistance with which to extract themselves from increasing economic marginalization. I guess we’re all busy right now. Busy with everything but work.
The division of labor in this period of “busyness” has the average citizen contemplating the life-destroying act of handing over the family home to a bank that was recently bailed out of financial difficulty with their very own tax dollars. The politicos, on the other hand, are focusing their “busyness” on endlessly debating about how many people really should be entitled to health care or an extension of their unemployment benefits. So much busyness, surrounding so little progress.
I’m old enough to remember these divisions of labor between politicians being called legislative gridlock, but I don’t remember a time when people were nearing the soup kitchens at today’s rate. Nor do I remember a time when a major financial sector bailout resulted in little more than unearned bonus distribution for the top 1 percent of the economic food chain.
Gridlock, back in the day, usually resulted in things being worked out and economies being restored by a few “larger than life” political figures and the middle class populace being able to get on with the work of filling both garage bays with new cars and helping their kids with financial aid applications for entry to college. That was the best one could hope for, and most were satisfied with this middle class “lot in life.”
Today it is quite a different story, as the rich remain dissatisfied with less than their customary multiple million-dollar salaries, which they actually have managed to retain through the carnage.
Meanwhile, putting the middle class back to work doesn’t even cross the radar screen of the economic elite. This seems an impossible scenario under common economic theory, as the middle class generally fuels the markets and tax bases dominated by investment capital. But in today’s increasingly global and shrinking upper echelon of investors, the game has become a closed loop. The middle class need no longer apply. Frankly, the middle class need no longer exist, based on our current economic statistics and distribution of wealth. We’re in the most incredibly underemployed recovery in U.S. history, and probably in all of history, based on our real unemployment rates and compression of wealth.
Recent market recoveries have occurred and restored nearly every penny of lost wealth to the economic elite while the entirety of the middle class has pilfered its retirement accounts, while being downgraded to a subclassification that really lacks a descriptive. Perhaps we should call this group the “muddled class” based on its current existence in a “disordered or confused state.”
I know we all fear the stultifying and evil grasp of inept government bureaucrats destroying our lives far more than the supposedly benign corporate engines of righteous pay for a righteously earned profitable day’s work. We are now a country of millionaires and paupers, with no tax base and a gargantuan national debt.
However we decide to rebuild this economy and our uniquely American way of life, we had best include a flight plan for the airlift of our new “muddle class” into the more familiar and fully employed “middle” it once inhabited, or we’ll have more to fear than governmental ineptitude. When there is no place to hide in an economy such as ours, there will be no one hiding, and a true reckoning will be the only option remaining for those who have been patiently decaying for far too long.
John Rockefeller is a nonprofit development consultant in Camden.