Posts Tagged ‘ruling-class’


Special mention

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Special mention

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The other day, in an interview with NPR’s Marketplace, I made the argument that the American Dream was over.

Basically, I explained that working people (which I decided to talk about, although they started the interview by focusing on the so-called middle-class) were being squeezed on both ends: on one side, they were being squeezed by stagnant wages (if, that is, they were fortunate enough to have a job); on the other side, they were being squeezed by rising costs for healthcare, retirement, and their children’s college. What that meant is the working-class could no longer count on getting ahead, either themselves or their children. Only one group, the tiny minority at the top, was enjoying the American Dream.

Now, that’s a pretty standard argument, and one that Robert Putnam eloquently makes by focusing on Port Clinton, Ohio:

the story of Port Clinton over the last half-century — like the history of America over these decades — is not simply about the collapse of the working class but also about the birth of a new upper class. In the last two decades, just as the traditional economy of Port Clinton was collapsing, wealthy professionals from major cities in the Midwest have flocked to Port Clinton, building elaborate mansions in gated communities along Lake Erie and filling lagoons with their yachts. By 2011, the child poverty rate along the shore in upscale Catawba was only 1 percent, a fraction of the 51 percent rate only a few hundred yards inland. As the once thriving middle class disappeared, adjacent real estate listings in the Port Clinton News Herald advertised near-million-dollar mansions and dilapidated double-wides.

But here’s my question: how do we make the argument that for the majority of people the American Dream has ended—with all that implies for the contrasting fates of the American working- and ruling-classes—without romanticizing and putting a shiny gloss on the postwar period when the American Dream did in fact exist? How do we talk and write about the relative immiseration of the working-class and, at the same time, criticize the conditions of life for the working-class even when the American Dream was something people believed in? In other words, how do we invoke the end of the American Dream as a powerful metaphor of the current crises and still avoid a nostalgia for “the way things were”?