I distinctly remember, when I was a child, that the railways in England had three classes in their carriages – First class, for the wealthy and privileged few – third class, for the riff-raff and untouchables, and second class, for most of us decent hard-working and thrifty folk. Maybe Voltaire put it rather better: “The people of these islands are like their own beer; froth on top, dregs at bottom, the middle excellent.”
How things appear to have shifted. Where is this comfortable “middle class” now? Where is that lifestyle from not so long ago that saw a middle-earner have a steady income, decent house, decent education for their youngsters, a decent health system, and a pension that stood up to scrutiny? Pretty much gone, I would say. Can you remember a time when our offspring are having a harder time of it then we did a generation ago? If you were born after the eighties, you simply don’t have access to what we had.
Why do 20 per cent of people earning over £70,000 a year say they can’t afford family holidays abroad? 40 per cent reckon they can’t save anything. Real-term incomes have stagnated over the past 30 years.
It seems you cannot earn what you used to in today’s middle-class jobs. Competition from abroad and technology have seen to that. But the government doesn’t help either. Now consisting of mostly elite and privately educated rich bastards, today’s rulers are punishing those that try to save – interest on savings has hit the floor, and now inflation is higher than that interest, so everyone loses year after year.
But, those in the top bracket of earnings, the one per cent best-paid, well they just keep on getting richer. I’ve read they now earn 15 per cent of all the money paid in salaries in Britain. Not so the average earner – they have taken a real-terms pay cut of about 10 per cent, and that’s not expected to change anytime soon.
So here is the problem, which Marx pointed out a long time ago. He said the middle class will be taken apart by the logic of late capitalism. He clearly said that small shopkeepers and tradespeople would go under. So who would be left? A large mass of poor people and a tiny minority of the ultra-rich, and then of course, he added, there would be violent revolution.
If he’s right, and he certainly is so far, what a terrific future we have in front of us……..
Social Contracts are funny things. Nothing is written yet we all demand that they be honored. Somehow, we all know this contract has been broken but nobody knows what to do about it. The One percent and their political lackeys lie and insist that what is true, is not.
During the Post-War period, the middle class could count on rising wages. As company profits and productivity increased, that wealth was shared across the board. The contract continued until the mid-seventies. Today, real wages have not increased in decades for anyone outside the C-suites.
The one percent hide behind their custom window treatments and dispatch their political lackeys to clean up the mess with ever more creative lies. Most Western nations have been gliding on Post-War riches and the middle class could continue on what their Fathers made.
As time goes on, the money that made you middle class forty years ago is no longer sufficient. Most of society is now squeezed by bills our Fathers didn’t have. Internet and Cable TV have replaced the boat in the back yard. The back yard has been replaced by a balcony. It’s still not enough.
Unsurprisingly, most industrialized western nations are becoming less stable. In a primal scream we elect ever more polarizing leaders, who in turn re-enforce and add to what Mr. Trump refers to as the swamp. Italy may well be the first to actually go over the edge. Despite all the marching about and shouting, nothing, nothing, has actually changed. The rich get richer and demand more tax cuts.
You don’t need a crystal ball to see how this plays out. The one-percent are sure the party will never end while the mob seethes. Marie Antionette knew they could survive on cake. Lenin, Hitler, etc, all understood that if that rage is ever focused, it becomes a powerful, even unstoppable force.
Mr. Trump would like to have his cake and eat it too. A false prophet who rages against the machine, while personally paying no taxes and engorging himself on the remains of the society our Fathers built. The mob can’t see it. Someday it will suddenly dawn on them that they are fools and then the game will be afoot. The smallest spark will unleash something no one wants. Throughout history these things have had the nasty habit of self-correcting, often with bloody results.
Death of the middle class
The middle-class formation was something that made the West as we know it today: a politically stable entity, leading the world both technologically and culturally. The prosperous majority leads to a centrist-based political system, getting the extremists, such as Communists or ultra-nationalists, out of power.
Now this is changing all over Europe and North America, with industrial jobs being relocated to China and other Third World countries. As a result, goods are getting cheaper but the blue-collars lose their jobs and get new ones, becoming part-timers at Walmart. This is basically how the Rusty Belt in the US came to existence.
Plus, immigrants are flooding Europe, getting social benefits, taking low-paid jobs and, in some cases, not wanting to be culturally part of their new homelands. Such stuff really irritates and I can understand why. These immigrants are no innocent lambs, bringing their share of crime and hatred. This may sound politically incorrect but, I believe, this is true. On the other hand, they are far from to be the only ones to blame: locals have their good share of the pie when it comes to crime and nationalism.
Still, flood of immigrants and economic globalization simply reflect decisions taken by the ruling elites of the West a while ago. It was a short-sighted, taking-aim-at-the-nearest-election-at-any-cost policy. So it eventually led to the problems with the middle class the West is facing today. It is deteriorating and Donald Trump has gotten the momentum on this. You may love him or hate him but he hit the bull’s eye and got the swing states on this agenda: getting back jobs, and getting illegal immigrants out.
There is some point in it but the real solutions lay somewhere else: more affordable and better education, new economy jobs, more flexibility for the workforce such as free-lance jobs and, maybe, some industry relocation back to the West because of more efficient taxation and tariffs.
But the main thing is plain and simple: do not plan how to win the next election. Think what would happen to your homeland in, at least, 25 years from now. This is the system problem of the West and it must be solved. Such a thing would automatically lead to the revival of the middle-class.