Arianna Huffington, founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, the sixth most popular online news source, details the state of the nation’s middle class. Her new book is entitled, “Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream.” Read her perspective and see if you agree.
Third World America presents in five sections, where Chapter One echoes the book’s title. It’s replete with stories and statistics highlighting the decline of America’s middle class. How do you define “middle class?” It resorts to self-definition says Huffington. “If you consider yourself middle class, you are middle class.”
The nation’s vanishing industrial base, eroding educational system and decaying infrastructure, are decline contributors; as is high unemployment, where one in six Americans is either out of work or underemployed. Meet Dean B., who, at age 35, was laid off from his IT job in February 2009 and is still jobless. Kimberly B. sold her wedding ring on Craigslist to pay her family’s utility bills.
Huffington further explores the plight of the middle class, citing fear as a predominant emotion. Obliterated 401(k) s, dwindling pensions, prolific foreclosures, and hints of future Social Security collapse; feed the anxieties. Many now believe that achieving middle class is luck of the draw, not unlike a prize on a scratch-off lottery ticket.
America’s infrastructure is unraveling, Huffington declares, with insufficient remedial state and federal funding. Highways, electrical grids, waterways, railroads, and bridges, are a few of the casualties. Some water pipes, originally laid during the Civil War, are perilously operating.
Think August 2007, when the Interstate 35W steel truss bridge over the Mississippi River, in downtown Minneapolis collapsed; killing 13 people and injuring 145. Previous patchwork repairs proved insufficient.
The nation’s school system is anemic, where the US ranks twenty-fifth in math and twenty-first in science among thirty developed countries; as ranked by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development. In 2009, America’s broadband connection ranked fifteenth among industrialized countries.
Middle class America’s downslide has been decades in the making. In the late 1980s, technology, outsourcing, and the loss of manufacturing jobs initiated a sputtering middle class economy with stagnant wages.
Ronald Regan’s election saw the proliferation of free market beliefs: less governmental intervention could best determine society’s winners and losers. Regan also ushered in the era of great divide between wealthy Americans and the middle class; which continues today.
Huffington says that an unregulated free market is sooner or later corrupted by fraud and excess. Witness the bank bailouts and Wall Street debacle of 2008.
American politics is broken, as powerful lobbyists and corporate America rule Washington. In 2010, three examples of regulatory failures due to corporate coddling, were the explosion at the Upper Branch mine in West Virginia; the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico; and the ongoing aftershock of the financial collapse, including fraud charges against Goldman Sachs. The voice of the middle class is but an echo in the Capitol chambers.
Huffington writes animated analogies to make her points. When discussing influential lobbyists, she says, “And like a swarm of termites reducing a house to sawdust, moneyed interests and their lobbyists are making a meal out of the foundations of our democracy.”
Each chapter concludes with a profile of a once successful middle class American, who is now economically struggling. Their stories offer gems of twenty-first century insight, including “Stability is long gone, so you better be doing something you love!”
Third World America’s title is extreme, Huffington admits, used to emphasize our nation’s possible future, without serious reform. She concludes optimistically, that our descent into a Third World nation “isn’t a done deal.”
Americans are known for being positive, forward-looking people with a can-do attitude. Stopping the descent to a Third World nation won’t be easy. It will take daring initiatives from the private and public sectors and personal responsibility. Now, more than ever, we must mine the most underutilized leadership resource available to us: ourselves. We’ll still need the raw power that only big government and appropriations can deliver.
Ultimately, change happens on a local and personal level. Today it’s up to us to help each other and ourselves. She advocates breaking up with your big bank. Executives took the governmental bailout, paid themselves record bonuses; yet are unsympathetic to those Americans facing foreclosure. Work instead with community banks and credit unions. The greatest antidote to despair is action; and resiliency is key to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century.
Huffington mirrors Robert B. Reich’s message, told in his concurrently released book, Aftershock: The NextEconomy And America’s Future. Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, also endorses Third World America.
One book, presents one voice. Although some will argue Huffington’s perspective, Third World America is a thought-provoking read on the present and future state of the nation.
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