In 2013, realization of the growing inequality and narrowing opportunity that is America almost crowded out the Kardashians, Honey Boo-Boo and Duck Dynasty from the national "conversation."
Eminences sought to explain. Among them was Larry Summers, who wrote that stagnation might be the "new normal." That takes some brass, as his former boss Bill Clinton would say, considering that Summers and his mentor, Bob Rubin, did so much to create this mess.
Tyler Cowen, the libertarian economist It Guy of the moment, writes in his book Average is Over and in a Time magazine essay that the middle class is pretty much toast. A radical hollowing out will leave some at the top and most in the bottom (which doesn't mean they can't be happy).
With some worthy exceptions (Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, et al), our thinkers tell us we are powerless against the forces that have been reshaping America.
This is nonsense.
Raise taxes on the richest Americans, back to around 70 percent, and close loopholes. Impose taxes on carbon and Wall Street transactions. Begin a robust antitrust regimen that not only stops job-killing, anti-competitive mergers but breaks up such highly concentrated industries as banking, airlines, fossil fuels, broadcasting, etc.
Change the tax code so that it penalizes destructive economic behavior (e.g. tax-free mergers, stratospheric executive compensation and gambling in the derivatives markets). Enact a 21st century Glass Steagall that applies to the shadow banking system as well.
Outlaw the influence-peddling in D.C. (i.e. "lobbying"). Pass a constitutional amendment if necessary to roll back Citizens United, a first step to getting corporate and oligarch money out of politics.
Make it easier to unionize through card check. Make union-busting corporations think twice by moving laws and regulations protecting unions and workers more into the balance where they once stood.
Create an American version of Chinese mercantilism. Time for us to stop being the world punching bag thanks to bad trade deals. For most of the history of the republic, tariffs were an essential part of policy. Republicans wanted higher duties, Democrats lower. But the idea of no tariffs is a relatively new conceit, one that has helped destroy the blue-collar middle class. Time to reverse course. Let the WTO argue about it for decades.
We need to get out of the empire business, especially playing into China's hands by escalating the chances of war in Asia (and one we might lose). The recent budget "compromise" kept intact defense spending that we can't afford and arguably encourages programs that will fail on the battlefield.
"Military Keynesianism" would be better spent on, say, building and operating high-speed trains and other nation-building at home.
Embark on heavy spending for infrastructure (and I don't mean "roads and bridges"), research and education that will more than repay the investment. We need Moon Shots in clean energy, high-speed trains and most of all addressing climate change. We need to renew our space program, too.
So for all those who read my work and say, "I feel so depressed," take heart. None of this is irreversible. It is not an Act of God. Most of it is a result of 1) The 40-year project by Big Business to take control of policy, ably chronicled by Hedrick Smith in his book, Who Stole the American Dream, and 2) Unsustainable living arrangements.
Oops. There's a 3)...bad political choices. Majorities of the middle class spending the past 33 years voting against their self interest. What's the Matter With Kansas and all the states of the New Confederacy. As "Soleri" can explain more eloquently that I, we are in a death spiral where middle-class anxiety feeds into bad political choices — seasoned, of course, by racial hatred and the culture wars.
As this Pew tracking poll shows, those identifying themselves as "conservative" consistently beats those who say they are "liberals." When this translates to elections and the media, the results are the ongoing consolidation of the oligarchs' power. And national suicide.
Yes, Americans as a whole are dumber, less engaged in the public square. But a consolidated, cowardly, venal and peddle-to-the-duhs-and-ignos media matters, too. The combination of muckrakers and an engaged citizenry led to most of the progressive advances of American history. So did the willingness of workers to shed blood.
Now, we got gadgets to keep us distracted. We got the national freak show and people tweeting stupid things. So there's no American equivalent of the protests in Kiev to demand that Congress address the national crisis of unemployment or myriad other crises.
Or to push for adequate stimulus to make up for the massive hole in demand caused by the swindle-caused Great Recession. Government spending, adjusted for inflation, is far below where it stood at this point in the aftermath of previous modern recessions.
The elites are doing fine. Better than ever. Corporate profits and cash on hand is at a record; so is the stock market. The ratio of CEO compensation to an average worker was 273-to-1 in 2012, vs. around 24-to-1 in 1965. Real median hourly wage growth is lower than in 2000.
Indeed, austerity and reaction rule the day. The tea party House feels emboldened to cut food stamps and unemployment assistance. The "Party of Lincoln" has proved that it will happily, self-righteously, destroy the country to make that (Black) Man in the White House a failure.
Mr. Obama is struggling with the ACA, even though most people don't realize that it was originally cooked up by the uber-conservative Heritage Foundation and implemented at the state level by the Republican Party's most recent presidential candidate.
ACA is "market based." Much of the foul-ups are a result of private contractors — the holy private sector — and the rest because of antiquated federal systems, inadequate spending and hatred of gub'ment workers that keeps away talent. Your tax cuts at work.
Moronistan deserves no better. An astonishing Gallup Poll recently showed that a 72 percent of respondents said "big government" is a bigger threat to the nation's future than big business or big (sic) labor.
I fear this result is not because of NSA spying.
So even though all of our challenges can be addressed and many fixed outright, nothing will be done as long as so many people are bamboozled. So long as these people enjoy cleaner air and water, safe food, infrastructure, schools, Social Security, Medicare, cheap stuff from Asia traveling on sea lanes made safe by the U.S. Navy, etc. etc. Taking all this for granted while they inveigh against "big government."
Things may have to get much worse before they get better.