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Posts Tagged ‘middle class’

There is much hoopla at the moment about the decline of the American middle class.  I know all about it, since I have been close, but not quite managed to grab one of those hallowed academic jobs which would make my life finally comfortable after years of deprivation.   The numbers in the faculty are getting worse by the year; when I began graduate school in the late 90s, about 75 percent of all teaching was still done by full-time faculty, with benefits, but by the time I was a serious contender on the job market, in 2008, this had shifted to 75 percent part-timers.  Now, only 20 percent of teaching at U.S. colleges and universities is done by full-time faculty.  The profession has literally disintegrated out from under me.  We were told by our professors:  hey, the baby boomers are about to retire, so now’s a great time to be on the job market!  As it turned out, the MBA-efficiency people had figured out that they could downsize everything, and pay everyone virtually nothing, for the same work.  Great idea, right!  Except that the U.S. professoriate has been gutted; there are many geniuses with Harvard PhDs now waiting years to get a tenure-track job, if ever.

The real issue here is the disentegration of the American middle class.  It is now far harder to become a professor, something like 4-5x harder, than 20 years ago; so that the Chronicle of Higher Ed is running ads saying “Don’t to go graduate school.”  And the example of the professoriate is typical of a number of other former ‘professions.’  Most of the writing, editing, architecture, creative design, journalism, etc., fields, in which there used to be an ok number of permanent jobs with benefits available, have been similarly gutted.  Same with teaching high school or even elementary school.  Often the only places hiring are inner-city schools where there is no teaching to be done, but one has to be more of a warden than a teacher, and one is literally in danger of one’s life!  Hardly a middle-class lifestyle.  How many business people go into work fearing that their colleagues may pull out a gun… teachers have to put up with way too much stress, especially urban teachers.  And elementary schools on ‘lockdown’ all the time, because the stupid arse NRA has so much leverage, and has convinced half the populace that they will be safer when packing a pistol?  What is that, the wild west?  In England, almost no one has guns, and somehow, they don’t shoot each other.  In the wild west, everyone had guns, and they all shot each other.  The logic there is pretty plain.

So, the main point being, that many avenues into the middle class which were once mainstays of the populace, are now closed.  Being a professor is not possible, being a teacher is not possible.  Being an office person is about the only career path left.  And yet downsizing has made this much much more stressful than ever before.  Now, to keep a job, you have to literally work 70 hour weeks?  And get ulcers and the like?  Doing what?  Often, incredibly meaningless, tedious work, for no reasonable purpose.   (more…)

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What do they want?  The wealthy-owned media will ask.

Well, what do they want?

A problem is that the old Marxist ‘revolution’ model is dead.  A ‘revolution’ which does not involve democracy, i.e., one which is created by a few imposing their will through military means, will inevitably create a dictatorship of some stripe.  Democracy and capitalism are historically (before 20 years ago), entirely linked, and even today, it is my take that China (whose capitalism began with democratic, British-run Hong Kong), will become more democratic as a result of capitalism spreading there.  Thus, one cannot be rid of capitalism; as the chairman of the London Stock Exchange said yesterday, “it is self-evident that capitalism is the best way to produce wealth for the many.”  And this is true.  What this same chairman also said is also true:  the main way to ‘fix’ capitalism is to regulate it, so that it creates the most wealth for the most people.  That’s the key now.  The key is to figure out how, and what, is feasible.

Part of the reason the protesters seem to have ‘no message’ is because we now know that sloganism doesn’t work, that quick fixes don’t work.  What we want, as someone said, is no longer the basics, but the right to a solid middle-class existence.  And that has been written out of US life over the past 10 years.  While the internet boom was on, on one noticed; while their house values were steadily inflating, no one minded that they had to work more and more hours, and that their health plans, and retirement plans were being dismantled by an ultra-pro business government.  But now that the next bust cycle has sprung (which is inevitable in capitalism), everyone realizes that the safety nets they put in place in the 1930s are not just ‘for crybabies’ but in fact the only thing that stands between the average person and a bread line.

But, even lefties are realizing that too much social security breeds complacency.  While the right-owned media is very happy to tell us that teachers and everyone else needs to have a ‘highly competative’ job atmosphere to maximize productivity – you should have no job security they argue, or else you will become a lazy, bad teacher.  And the problem is, they are somewhat right.

So, we need to realize that the happy medium is what is needed.  Duh!!!! How hard is it for a pundit to say, gosh, we need a balance between too much and too little social security?  You never hear _anyone_ say that.  I guess it doesn’t sell papers or ads or something, and/or, really of course much of it is the private ownership of the media, which encourages sensationalism (vs. the so much more balanced, and sane, BBC, CBC, and PBS.).

History is now teaching us that it is legislation which creates the middle class.  The middle class has to protect itself, or else, it will not exist.  Big business does not want or need a middle class, per se; not in a globalizing world.  How do we legislate a middle class?

A)  Have a happy medium bewteen competition and job security and quality of life.

B)  Don’t be afraid of globalization.  Many jobs will stay right here despite the migration of manufacturing.

C)  Elect legislators on a specific platform of ‘maximizing opportunity, happiness, and wealth for the middle class.’  Why can’t we do that?  Well, we can.

D)  Agitate until those legislators can work freely, without their hands tied by a supreme court which is entirely pro-business, and lobbyists, and campaign donation laws which entirely favour a rich few.   (This is precisely what the ‘occupy’ people are doing.

E) Realize that we have to lower population, so that land is cheaper, and housing is cheaper, and so that we can all have our god-given right to property, space, fresh air, sunlight, and a decent slice of earth’s resources, for free, or for very little, like it used to be until the 1950s, about the time that earth reached 2 billion people.  This is the only way to have the middle classes guaranteed a share.   (more…)

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In the Matrix, we get glimpses of people who have been turned into fuel sources for an ambiguous controlling elite (of robots); this is just one example of a ‘cell-people’ theme that runs through a lot of Sci-Fi.  Another obvious example is the Borg, where individuals have become entirely subsumed into the ‘collective’ and basically serve as worker drones for a hive mind.  There are other variations where people are simply raised for food.  The main recurring elements in this genre are that people have almost no space in which to move or exercise independent action (because they docilely inhabit tiny cells), and are essentially kept alive for the purposes of others.

The reason why this type of story has resonance, is because it calls to mind some salient truths about the present, and also provides a warning about various metaphorical futures for humanity.  In this post I would like to point out that the world is actually heading in this direction, in a much more real sense than is usually perceived.

There has always been slavery; (more…)

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I was watching a speech by Newt Gingritch, and he was repeating the old republican saw that:  “if you work hard and are a responsible adult, who doesn’t ask for handouts, then you will do fine for yourself.”

While this is of course a sound idea under some conditions, the republicans neglect to mention the rather obvious fact that under other conditions, you can work your fingers to the absolute bone, holding three jobs, and still find that you cannot feed your family or pay your most basic bills.  In other words, depending on the economic realities of the time, and a lot of other factors, it is quite possible to work very hard, and yet not do very well at all. 

For example, there there were many people in early twentieth-century America who worked fourteen hour days, six days per week.  They worked very hard; under much more difficult circumstances than any hard-working American today (because there was zero social safety net prior to the Great Depression), and yet, guess what?  They lived in filthy shacks, crowded ten to a room, with no running water, no sewer system, no social security, no ability to save, inadequate clothing, no medical care, and not enough food to eat.

In fact, it is far more common all over the world today, for people to work very, very hard, and yet somehow, they find that their wages are not nearly enough.  Hey, Newt, now why would that be? (more…)

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