Column, 487 words

The Roaring Twenties Are Back

The U.S. economy is reverting to the bad old days.

William A. Collins

Not much left
Worth fighting for;
The rich already
Won the war.

Many of us who have reached Social Security age had a pretty good run.

We lived through those heady days that followed the Great Depression and World War II, a delightful — though brief — moment in U.S. history when the rich were losing the class war. The middle class gained the high ground and nearly everyone had a shot at a decent income and reasonable retirement. There was plenty of work, and we even started caring for the poor.

Collins-Twenties-The Loudest Voice

The Loudest Voice/Flickr

No longer. The class war’s over and the rich won. The U.S. economy is reverting to the bad old days of a century ago.

Wealth and income for the most privileged among us are booming once again, and they’re paying a smaller share in taxes. CEO pay has become obscene, production jobs have been sent abroad or lost to automation, pensions are rarely guaranteed, health care is unaffordable, student debt and home mortgages are often unpayable, and median family income is sinking like a stone.

One visible sign of the war’s aftermath is that segregation — including by class — is on the rise.

The rich are securing hot spots to live in and fencing them off. Manhattan (following London, Paris, and Dubai) is alive with projects for the ultra-rich — who of course only live there part-time, as they have so many other homes to frequent. This upper-crust housing boom has distorted the market to the point where many builders have lost interest in constructing middle class dwellings.

Education follows suit. The wealthy pick posh suburbs to raise their kids. Schools there are automatically segregated, well-funded, and suitable to train our next generation of rulers. Either that, or Junior gets sent to private school, also a healthy growing industry.

The Great Recession made this disparity of wealth and income notably worse by depressing tax revenue. Given that the Pentagon budget is supposedly sacrosanct, those required budget cuts must come from elsewhere.

Where exactly? Too often, the cuts are made to programs that provide for the most vulnerable Americans. Food stamps and housing benefits are on the chopping block. Meanwhile, the middle class plays musical chairs for an ever-shrinking number of decent jobs.

This stagnation can’t keep pace with our growing population, and the leftover workers are stuck with jobs that don’t pay a living wage, if they can find work at all.

Could Congress cure all this? Maybe if it tried. It could, for example, raise the minimum wage, levy higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, root out military pork, universalize health care, cap outrageous CEO pay, block trade deals that encourage the export of American jobs, and keep us out of new wars.

But don’t count on our lawmakers to do any of those sensible things. The Roaring Twenties are back — seven years early.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. otherwords.org

  • whirlpooloff

    Look at the bright side. Even the “middle class” (however that is supposed to be defined) chose to abandon Detroit by voting with their feet. You are welcome to rebuild what remains of your union and government experimentation from the last century.

    The laboratory is now yours to demonstrate how you can resurrect the once great city. One condition – you can’t use the money of the populace that have already fled the situation, nor anybody else’s that never resided or even visited. You are free to demonstrate how our own version of East Berlin can be saved by the policies you advocate. Have fun.

  • Carolyn M

    Thanks so much for posting this, I keep telling my husband and anyone who will actually listen that we fell asleep at the wheel and woke up in the gilded age. :(

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