RIP: The American Middle Class: 1944-2011Posted: February 17, 2011
“Everythings fucked up and no one goes to jail…”
I was reading a really depressing piece about the continued fallout from the financialand mortgage crisis by Matt Taibbi entitled, “Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?” the other night. It confirmed some of my worst imaginings and made me wonder if I was going to see the death of the American middle class in my lifetime.
Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth — and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.
The more I learn of what happened and how, the more angry and helpless feeling I get. Insult is added to injury since, after the Obama election, Obama supporters (like myself) had hoped to see a change in Washington; instead we have gotten more of the same. The financial criminals get rewarded while people who engage in ‘poor person crimes’ (like prostitution, drugs, etc.,) continue to fill the jails beyond capacity. Somehow, this story of a woman who collapsed and died at her desk in her cubicle and no one noticed until the next day seems the appropriate bookend for that tale. Has our brand of capitalism degenerated into a form of indentured servitude? We already have workers who live in mortal fear of termination or layoff because of their dependance upon their employer for health care benefits. How many employees would love to use the capitalist system to their own advantage by entertaining offers from another employer but dare not because this would require they enroll in a new health care plan and the pre-existing conditions suffered by themselves or a family member would not be covered? Despite gains in the market and in corporate valuation, salaries contine to remain flat and unemployment rates contine at near-recession levels. There has been a recovery, but this rising tide has not lifted all boats… or maybe that metaphor no longer works because it becomes obvious to me that in this economy, not everyone HAS a boat.
If that were not enough, despite the fact that the money taps had never stopped flowing for the top 10% and their lackeys, the ‘deficit disease’ continues to infect the minds of Americans. The revenues are out there, if the people in Washington had the balls to collect them, but our leaders and media pundits continue to use the financial crisis as a reason to put public assistance programs and the salaries and benefits of state workers on the chopping block. Perhaps emboldened by the way in which GM and other manufacturers managed to kick the stuffing out of unions during their own financial meltdown and come out smelling like a rose on the other side with shareholder’s dividends and CEO salaries intact, Wisonsin legislators are now using the “financil crisis” as en excuse to try to place a foot on the neck of their public service employees and hack away at the benefits (financial and otherwise) associated with public service jobs in their state; watch and wait as other states follow that lead. Why is it that Americans worship billionaires and suck up to millionaires but hate anyone making less than 50k a year to the point that salary caps, wage freezes, benefit cuts and pension gutting for the poor and middle class are always ‘necessary’ but any suggestion that the super-rich should pay a dime more than the have-nots in taxes is met with outraged cries of “communist wealth redistribution” or viewed as an affront to capitalism, freedom and our mother’s love?