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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/19/16

Neo-Capitalism And the American Middle Class Myth

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American politicians keep harping on either "saving the Middle Class" from some sort of impending manufactured doom or mouthing off about some nebulous and as yet unfathomable plan to "grow the Middle Class" as if that activity was some sort of garden variety Zinnias growing waiting to be fertilized into transcendental beauty. For an unthinking, almost dumbed down electorate, that has abnegated its ability to think clearly, and having outsourced its public education to sundry talking heads on the mainstream media, its easy for politicians to force-feed them all kinds of phantasmagoric drivel.

Fact is that in the first decade of the 21st century in America, the much-ballyhooed Middle Class is a phantom, a figment of the collective imagination of dishonest politicians long adept at hoodwinking the American people. The Middle Class is neither a fact nor is it a reality. Inequality in wealth and the concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands have seen to that. And no, this is not some neo-Marxist position. Anyone who has read Marx would conclude that when it came to capitalism his issue with the system was about PRODUCTION and the ensuing contradictions in production relations. I am here dealing with the POLITICAL class nature of capitalism in modern day United States society. I leave the issues of production, production relations, and the necessary ensuing contradictions to political economists far better able and capable of articulating these issues than I could.

2016 America's capitalism is about monopoly in production and the inevitable rendering of the business of population into two great camps -- one rich, filthy rich, whose share of the national income far outstrips and exceeds that of the majority of the population. Put another way the socio-economic contradictions in today's American society is about the accumulation of super wealth and power -- economic, social and political - in the hands of the 0.01 percent of the population and the growing poverty and rampant inequality of the bottom 99 percent.

All of this started under Republican President Ronald Reagan back in 1980s when he slashed taxes for the rich and privileged and foisted on the American people a failed, lopsided, economic system where presumably the excess wealth and income would "trickle down" to the poor. It's the same system, albeit now dressed up and repackaged by Donald Trump that is now being sold to the American people as something new. It's the same old Voodoo economics that favors the rich and stifles the poor.

Indeed, the person who put in place the mechanisms to murder the Middle Class and gut the poor and working class, was dear old Ronald Reagan, the High Priest and Holy Pope of conservatives in America and Europe. That Reagan failed to understand what the consequences of his actions would mean and the suicidal costs its impact would have on American society was and is an object lesson in just how out of touch he was when it came to economic issues of relevance to America's poor. Egged on my neo-liberal economists, blinded by greed, and pushing a supply side economic agenda, Reagan killed of Black housing stocks, ignored the growing AIDS epidemic, eviscerated the labor movement, and put in place policies that would spawn today's high levels of inequality and uber-rich.

Karl Marx believed that the Middle Class (he called it a strata) was a natural part of capitalism's development and growth. Today, some political thinkers argue that any modern Middle Class is born out of a conscious choice in society. The jury is still out on this. But my humble position is that there is some validity to this argument, especially in the American context. Further, I am of the opinion that as an economic system capitalism's record is one of deliberately creating huge levels of poverty and thus inequality. Today, nobody can deny the great gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots. For example, in New York City, each and every night more than 1 million children go to bed hungry, and the ranks of the homeless in the city has risen to over 55,000 people - including about 20,000 children while the richer continues to get richer and Wall Street speculators rake in record profits.

The conclusion here is that capitalism does NOT intentionally or by natural phenomenon create a Middle Class. Marx was also right -- it does create small strata that serve its needs. At the very top of the capitalist hierarchy is a very small oligarchic group of the superrich. Below them is a small strata made up of stratified industry managers, doctors, other professionals, lawyers, shop-owners and speculators that do the biddings and work of the ruling class and keep the working class in its place with subsistence wages.

This "army of labor" (the working class) (Marx's words) is at the very bottom of society accounting for over 90 percent of the population. Unlike the middle strata and middle class, the working class is a DIRECT creation of the antagonistic relationship between capital and labor. For any capitalist system to survive and grow it needs workers who are the producers of goods and services. No other class can do this. But the working class is not monolithic but comprised of various detachments, including the lumpenprolatariat (again Marx's words) -- a strata of the poor that engages in illegal activities and represent the most backward elements of the working class. They have no wealth -- in fact they're typically in debt most of their lives -- and can barely survive on what little money they make. In this system wealth accumulation is at the very top and contained and controlled by the elites in American society and out of the reach of the working class.

I know that some people, uninformed and spooked by any mention of capitalism and its negative effects are going to miss the essential point of this article: that the Middle Class did not and could not have arisen by some natural market-driven phenomenon. The argument here is that the Middle Class is a creation, a deliberate creation, of government's action and political calculus -- nothing more. My reasoning is simple: America today has a dwindling Middle Class precisely because of a deliberate policy of cutting taxes for the rich (a policy started 33 years ago under Ronald Reagan) while asking the middle class and working poor to pay higher taxes to offset the cost of tax breaks for the rich. This pushed the middle class downwards into the ranks of the working poor.

At the same time, successive Republican and Democratic governments have consistently cut services for BOTH the poor and Middle Class. Few in these social brackets could today afford the mortgages on their homes, send their children to college, pay the high rents and afford healthcare, despite the limited successes of Obamacare. Therefore it was a governmental policy that decimated the Middle Class and dislodged it from its very foundation moorings set in place in the aftermath of the Second World War.

And the dangerous consequences this pervasive contradiction between labor and capital is manifested in growing social, economic, and political inequality. Socio-political stress, strife and brutal state reaction, oftentimes in the form of police brutality is the norm today. By devaluing the poor, and treating poor people with contempt, the ruling class sends a dog whistle to law enforcement that the lives of the least among us -- Blacks, Latinos and the poor -- do not matter. The perception that the elected government is done serving the needs of the people who put them in office and who pander on their knees to the rich and famous, helps create social resentment and hatred that have contributed to mass shootings at playgrounds, schools, universities, places of worship, and places of fun and pleasure.

Inequality undermines democracy. The rush for more and more wealth and money commercializes every facet of society. Aided and abetted by puppet governments they legalize and legitimize this plunder by a series of unjust laws. The militarization of the police -- set up to protect private capitalist property and not the poor and working class -- is the engine of coercion that props up and keeps the "status quo" in place as the superrich go after more and more wealth concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Infact, the United States and Europe have all passed into a neo-capitalist stage that is characterized by monopoly capitalism where entire industries and the lives of millions of people are controlled by small groups of billionaires. Today, America is run by just 540 billionaires whose collective net worth is over $1 trillion.

Curiously, there is one dynamic that drives today's conservatives to adamantly fight against increasing the minimum wage to a living wage pegged to the cost of living index and inflation. These elements also oppose any and all attempts to raise taxes on the superrich. They know full well that when there is even a small semblance of equitable taxation this causes wealth to spread more equally and creates the climate for Americans to demand much more from their governments at all levels.

This is precisely what happened in the 1960s and '70s when taxes on the rich were at their highest. The Civil Rights movement, the women's movement, the consumer movement, the anti-war movement, and the environmental movement are all social movements that grew out of the wealth and rising expectations of the post-World War II era's middle class. These movements terrified conservatives. That is why when Reagan came to power in 1980, conservatives -- on both sides of the political spectrum - made it their unwavering plan to undermine and stunt the growth of working people and the middle class.

Finally, let me say this about capitalism lest readers believe that I'm passing judgment on an economic system that has few redeeming graces. That's not remotely true. Indeed, capitalism IN THE RAW, before the advent of monopoly and crony capitalism, was a progressive system with great promise. Nobody can doubt that American entrepreneurship and enterprise is the success story of the 20th century. In fact, skills development, training, education and innovation do promote, in some measure, greater equality, especially when governments invest in education and higher learning making them easily available to all. But all of this notwithstanding, capitalism in the United States today, teeters towards pervasive, systemic and endemic inequality. Today we see the negative causes and effects brought on by changing demographics, unequal and unfair taxation processes that favor the superrich, and weak labor organization -- something that we can again thank Ronald Reagan.

There is this consistently pushed myth that capitalism is about equality, hard work, creativity and discipline. These are the values and attributes that apologists for capitalism say are needed to become successful and make a better life for your family. If that is so then the working class should not be poor because no other class in society works as hard, is dedicated to their jobs, are disciplined, and make do with starvation wages. The fact is that today's America capitalism has failed --miserably. If you are not born into wealth, with a "gold spoon in your mouth," then social mobility will elude you. And even though you become educated and play by the rules there still are very, very few doors opened to Black and brown people to succeed.

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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