Occupy Wall Street: Can the Middle Class be Saved?

OK. I know that elected officials, police and residents in the various Occupy Wall Street cities around the country are losing patience with the demonstrations and the demonstrators. And most likely we are going to see more arrests and violence like what happened in Oakland earlier this week.

So maybe it’s time for the protesters to roll up their sleeping bags and head for home. They have already accomplished what they can. They have focused national attention on the fact that many people — young, old and in between — are out of work and hurting in this country and that corruption on Wall Street has undercut our nation’s economy.

The protests have also highlighted a trend that has significant implications for this nation in the years ahead: the decline of the middle class and the elimination of jobs that provided middle class incomes and lifestyles.

Can the Middle Class Be Saved? Here’s from an extremely informative and comprehensive article in The Atlantic:

The Great Recession has accelerated the hollowing-out of the American middle class. And it has illuminated the widening divide between most of America and the super-rich. Both developments herald grave consequences. Here is how we can bridge the gap between us.

And more:

In October 2005, three Citigroup analysts released a report describing the pattern of growth in the U.S. economy. To really understand the future of the economy and the stock market, they wrote, you first needed to recognize that there was “no such animal as the U.S. consumer,” and that concepts such as “average” consumer debt and “average” consumer spending were highly misleading.

In fact, they said, America was composed of two distinct groups: the rich and the rest. And for the purposes of investment decisions, the second group didn’t matter; tracking its spending habits or worrying over its savings rate was a waste of time. All the action in the American economy was at the top: the richest 1 percent of households earned as much each year as the bottom 60 percent put together; they possessed as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent; and with each passing year, a greater share of the nation’s treasure was flowing through their hands and into their pockets. It was this segment of the population, almost exclusively, that held the key to future growth and future returns. The analysts, Ajay Kapur, Niall Macleod, and Narendra Singh, had coined a term for this state of affairs: plutonomy.

In a plutonomy, Kapur and his co-authors wrote, “economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few.” America had been in this state twice before, they noted—during the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties. In each case, the concentration of wealth was the result of rapid technological change, global integration, laissez-faire government policy, and “creative financial innovation.” In 2005, the rich were nearing the heights they’d reached in those previous eras, and Citigroup saw no good reason to think that, this time around, they wouldn’t keep on climbing. “The earth is being held up by the muscular arms of its entrepreneur-plutocrats,” the report said. The “great complexity” of a global economy in rapid transformation would be “exploited best by the rich and educated” of our time.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters can’t solve this problem. But they called attention to it and that’s a positive, especially if the Prez, members of Congress and other elected officials can lift their butts off their thumbs and actually accomplish something.

Now the Occupy Wall Street protesters need to follow the advice of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

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