An autopsy of the American dream, part 1

Over the past 50 years, lots of things have changed in the United States. Here are a few examples.

1) A child’s chance of earning more than his or her parents has plummeted from 90 to 50 percent.

2) Earnings by the top 1 percent of Americans nearly tripled, while middle-class wages have been basically frozen for four decades, adjusting for inflation.

3.) Self-inflicted deaths — from opioid use and other drug addictions — are at record highs.

4) Nearly one in five children in the US are now at risk of going hungry.

5) Among the 35 richest countries in the world, the US now has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy.

The American Dream has vanished, What happened? Who or what broke the country?

  • the movement towards corporate free speech — that supplied the money and the power for all the lawyers who are being hired in Washington to be lobbyists, and to fight regulations, to fight labor laws. This gave corporations more power, weakened unions, undermined support for a re- training program, and consequently undermined support for a real program for job retraining in the face of automation, and in the face of global trade.

The key distinction you make in the book is between the protected and the unprotected classes. Why is this so important in American society?

Steven Brill, the author of this autopsy says”

“I think talking about protected and unprotected people is more relevant distinction than saying people are Democrats or Republicans, or that they’re conservatives or liberals.

“The unprotected are all the people in this country who rely on the government in some way to provide for the common good. They actually need public education to be good because that provides opportunity to their children. They need mass transit. They need a fair tax code. They need someone to answer the phone at the Social Security Administration when they get their Social Security check.

“And what’s happened over the last three or four years is that big swaths of the unprotected people in this country have gotten very frustrated and angry that basically nothing is working for them — whether it’s the economy, or the highways, or the power grid, or the tax code, or job training programs, or public education, or health care. They basically have the sense that the government’s responsibility to provide for the common good is gone. It’s evaporated.

“This is why they reacted, or at least 46 percent of them reacted, the way they did in the 2016 election, which was really an effect of severe frustration — “Let’s just elect this guy who’s promising all this stuff. He seems really unconventional, but at least he says exactly what’s on his mind. Let’s try this.”

“And the protected class?  They are the “winners”. They don’t need a good system of public education because their kids go to private school, or care about mass transit because they can afford to drive anywhere.  And they don’t need public health care because they can pay for private coverage.   In short, they’re not invested in the common good because they’re protected, and the system is rigged to keep them that way.

“The story of decline really begins about 50 years ago, so is this basically a story of how a subset of the baby boomer generation drove the country off a cliff,  the high achievers in the knowledge economy — the corporate lawyers who helped take companies over, the bankers who created derivatives and stock buybacks, and so forth. We became an economy that basically moved assets around instead of creating new assets.

(An edited version of a conversation between Sean Illing and “Tailspin” author Steven Brillon Today, Explained, a daily podcast, 28 June 2018)   Part 2 tomorrow.

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