Pundits, Columnists Run to the Barricades to Begin New Revolution
I see our nation’s political scribes are in a revolutionary mood.
Could an “Arab Spring” type of upheaval be brewing in the United States? Is the frustration and anger toward our dysfunctional politics and economics beginning to reach a tipping point where young folks begin to push for profound change? Has our democracy become so broken that citizens are going to find creative avenues to express their feelings? Will we pass through the holidays and winter of our dysfunction to arrive at a spring of change? I sense a movement of social unrest growing strongly and quietly towards our own version of the Arab Spring . . .
For more than a generation, the middle class of this country has not seen any significant improvement in their financial situation. In fact, when you factor in inflation, the majority of the country has actually seen a decline in their economic status over the past 25 years. The wealthiest 5 percent of America has basically garnered nearly all the gains we have seen in economic growth over the last few decades. Many in New York City, Washington, DC and small enclaves around the country have done very very well, while the rest of America is either stagnant or in decline. As we reflect on Nelson Mandela’s passing it is time to ask if we have our own version of apartheid here — not by race, but by economic status.
Ron Fournier of National Journal, who had been on an anti-Obama tear lately:
Cities across the nation have become flash points of polarization, as one population has bounced back from the recession while another continues to struggle. One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.
Written by Andrea Elliott and illustrated by photographer Ruth Fremson, Dasani’s story is an indictment of a political system that is aiding and abetting America’s division by class, where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class gets squeezed into oblivion. Both major parties are complicit, but Republicans, more than Democrats, seem especially eager to widen and exploit American inequality.
Where to begin?
One problem with the “this is intolerable, and we need an uprising!” cry is that we’ve already had at least two “uprisings” at the ballot box in recent years: The Obama wave of 2008 and the Tea Party wave of 2010. But their remedies for the “intolerable” condition are contradictory — one envisions a much greater role for government in Americans’ daily lives, while the other concludes government’s growing role exacerbates the problems instead of solving it.
Ironically, the two sides agree in their denunciation of crony capitalism, but what they usually mean is that they’re opposed to the other guy’s crony capitalism. Obama voted for TARP and then exploited its discontent, shrugged at the taxpayers’ getting stuck for the bill of Solyndra and other green energy boondoggles, then did his part to help walking conflict of interest Terry McAuliffe become governor of Virginia. The flip side of the coin is that too many Republicans are all too comfortable with their own versions of crony capitalism — loans and loan guarantees subsidize U.S. exporters, state economic development boards, and Bob McDonnell’s cozy financial arrangements with donors, among other examples. While crony capitalism isn’t really a driving force behind our national sense of diminishing economic opportunities, it certainly doesn’t help anyone except the cronies, and enhances the sense that wealth is built through cheating and secret deals, not hard work or innovation.
(Notice that this expression of economic discontent is so generic that everybody’s got a grievance, and nobody thinks they’re the beneficiaries. This is how you get multimillionaire rapper/mogul Jay-Z selling Occupy Wall Street-themed t-shirts, or the CEO of bailed-out insurance giant AIG explicitly comparing the treatment of his company to lynchings in the South, or the number of members of Congress who have complained about their $174,000 per year salary.)
Dowd and Fournier aren’t dumb guys. They must know that the problems of the poor and the squeezed middle class aren’t just a matter of enacting policy A instead of policy B. Or, more specifically, you would go a long way towards solving the problem of the middle class getting squeezed and the poor getting poorer if you could alter any one of the persistent social problems in American life:
- Public schools that stink, fail to prepare kids for college or the working world, and often provide the worst education to the poorest kids who need it the most.
- Teenagers having children and kids being raised without a mom and a dad who are engaged in their daily life, teaching them the out-of-the-classroom life lessons, providing discipline and a moral compass, and providing good role models.
- Helping those who encounter difficulties in life from succumbing to drug abuse and/or alcoholism.
Perhaps most frighteningly, even young college-educated people who don’t face the daunting problems above can still begin their careers dreadfully unprepared for the requirements of the workplace:
. . . the problem with the unemployability of these young adults goes way beyond a lack of [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] skills. As it turns out, they can’t even show up on time in a button-down shirt and organize a team project.
The technical term for navigating a workplace effectively might be soft skills, but employers are facing some hard facts: the entry-level candidates who are on tap to join the ranks of full-time work are clueless about the fundamentals of office life.
A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.
Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.” Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the pain point.
There was no “Create Poverty and Exacerbate the Division Between Rich and Poor Act” that was passed and that we could repeal. We, as a society, did this to ourselves. Mickey Kaus dissects Obama’s recent speech on income inequality and asks:
2. Where’s the Culture of Poverty? It’s especially hard to claim government can easily fix some of the disturbing social trends that seem to underlie the “coming apart” of the classes — especially the rise in single-parent, mainly fatherless, families. Amazingly, as Via Meadia notes, Obama mostly ignores these “social patterns” except in a fudge-paragraph where he associates them with poverty but doesn’t say which is causing which. To the extent government policy has influenced family structure it almost certainly made the problem mostly worse, with a welfare system that enabled a culture of single motherhood. The 1996 reform of welfare so far has not transformed the family structure at the bottom of the income distribution (though it does appear to have had some positive effect). That suggests the rise of single-parent families, like falling pay for unskilled work, may in part be the product of Larger Forces. For example, it’s not crazy to think that prosperity itself enables more people to get by without traditional families in the shorter term (with possibly damaging long-range consequences). But it’s hard to blame government inaction, and Republicans, for that.
But it’s easier to blame the opposition party, isn’t it?