I was watching Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey and noticed that though we are having a tremendous class war in America, the people we are fighting with are in many ways identical to us. Compared to what you see in Downtown Abbey my ultra rich arch nemesis and I have nearly the same educational background and lifestyle. Sure the ultra rich guy took a longer vacation in Europe than I did. We both ski but he goes more often. No amount of his money will change the fact that unlike in Abbey Americans are not peasants
Currently, the U.S. ranks ninth in the world in a four-way tie for college completion and only 42 percent of young adults in the U.S., ages 25 to 34, have a college degree.
A hundred years ago the upper class had a radically different level of education. In 1910 less than 20% of 15 – 18 years olds were enrolled in a high school; less than 10% of all American 18 year-olds graduated. Furthermore many of the people in the other side's trenches are not richer than me at all but are nonetheless still happily cheering on the end of the American middle class. So even as our government is now owned by bankers,
But while the financial sector continued to recover from its 2008 meltdown -- with profits jumping some $51 billion in the fourth quarter, a gain of 51 percent over the previous quarter -- non-financial firms actually saw profits fall by roughly $10 billion, according to the BEA figures.
I want to explore the idea that this "class" war might be less about money than we previously thought.
At it's base level the end of an era war we are participating in is about intellectual freedom. Specifically its about whether or not our society can release the moorings of reality and allow some of it's citizens to believe whatever they want. Letting bankers believe they are doing God's work while ripping off America is really just the tip of the ice berg. Everyone believes they are making the world a better place and most simply are not.
In the Great Stagnation Tyler Cowen discusses how our society lacks economic measurements that can detect when an industry gets too large. As our military, financial, heath care and other industries grow a point of diminishing returns and exponential costs is reached. A natural political divide has formed between people who would like to ignore this reality and people who don't.
We have taken to calling this divide class war and pretending it has something to do with traditional "left" versus "right" politics but it is a new beast that has been raised up by the wealth and power of the American economy. This goes well beyond a battle with corporatism. The belief system people have adopted has become a rejection of reality entirely. WMDs or not, creationism or not, gay marriage or not, taxes or not - these are all just different shades of encouraging a society to immerse in fantasy; to live in a political holodeck of sorts.
On the one hand one must somewhat admire the fierceness of people to deny the physical underpinnings of the world in their quest for happiness. On the other hand there is really no tradition of this in our history to predict where it is going. The people of a hundred years ago did not need to "reject" any reality - they were genuinely ignorant of the workings of science and the world that are now instantly available in America to all but the most lazy or unfortunate. Having this much access to information and deliberately ignoring it is something new.
Sure the exact nature of peak oil is not known, there was some small percentage that a war in Iraq was a good idea or housing was not a bubble and there is lot not known about climate change but overall much of the political split in America is between those recognizing well known facts and those dismissing them. Not to excuse those in the past that believed certain blood lines or races or genders might actually be superior but those beliefs at the time required just wishful thinking where many of today's politics require a war on rational thought. To wake up each and everyday thinking, "I will believe whatever makes me happy and resent anyone deciding differently."
Back one hundred years ago over half all Americans worked in agriculture or manufacturing as opposed to now less than one fifth. Americans in those days did not have much need of stretching reality to prove that their jobs were meaningful. Their class war was about getting the rich people to behave enough that conditions would be bearable. Now though much of America needs to invent a fiction around their daily work life that includes just how it is that other humans benefit. And once you are able to develop a fiction like that might as well continue on into all of reality.
In this way we are more like the upper class of Downtown Abbey then the service people whom America's insane wealth inequality would seem to associate us. Instead of taking advantage of the immense bounty our citizenship bequeathed us we are instead as Bob Herbert explains - Losing Our Way
So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.
Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.
Sadly this will be Bob's last NYT column so please read it in full
Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.
New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.
This is my last column for The New York Times after an exhilarating, nearly 18-year run. I’m off to write a book and expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society. My thanks to all the readers who have been so kind to me over the years.
I wish the enormous imbalance in political power were something the elite did to America by themselves. Unfortunately, compared to Bob Herbert, most Americans live in self constructed dream world. The war we fight is as much with delusion as it is with a sociopath 1%.