How the Middle Class Is Getting Screwed

January 10, 2007 at 6:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How the Middle Class Is Getting Screwed – Kurt Andersen – New York Magazine:

It used to be that when the economy thrived and productivity grew, pay for working people rose accordingly. Yet as the Times reported this past summer, the first six years of the 21st century look to be “the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.” People have put up with all this because it happened so quickly and for the same reason that the great mass of losers in casinos put up with odds that favor the house: The spectacle of a few ecstatic big winners encourages the losers to believe that, hey, they might get lucky and win, too. We have, in effect, turned the U.S. into a winner-take-all casino economy, substituting the gambling hall for the factory floor as our governing economic metaphor, an assembly of individual strangers whose fortunes depend overwhelmingly on random luck rather than collective hard work. And it’s been unwitting synergy, not unrelated coincidence, that actual casino gambling has become ubiquitous in America at the same time.

I don’t know about you, but I find casinos, for all their adrenaline and glitz, pretty depressing places.

This is a call to arms by Kurt Andersen that I am a little surprised hasn’t gotten more play. He attacks CEO pay and the shift of salaries that have been rising for the rich and holding steady or sliding for the middle class. He even offers a solution:

…We could enact de facto compensation caps for top executives, either by limiting the tax deductibility of CEO pay or, as in Britain, by making CEO pay subject to a shareholder vote every year. We can raise—and certainly not further reduce—taxes on the extremely well-to-do.We’ve had a bracing, invigorating run of pedal-to-the-metal hypercapitalism, but now it’s time to ease up and share the wealth some. We can afford to make life a little more fair and a lot less scary for most people.

I think this is a savvy point that is even-wider-ranging that Andersen argues. The massive increase in the amount of media and the rise of celebrity culture since WWII have led to a narcissism and entitlement.  That each of us is special and deserves success and riches.  By seeing those few winners, our hopes are that much more falsely raised.  How else to explain the rise in popularity of jobs that so few manage to succeed in… acting, writing, professional sports, singing, rocking, etc.

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