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I’ve always believed that the ’70s are remembered as the Decade That Taste Forgot because they were a time when people without culture or education had the money to not only indulge their passions, but flaunt them in front of the entire nation.
It was an era, to use the title of a 1975 sociological study of a Wisconsin tavern, of blue-collar aristocrats. The recession at the beginning of that decade – America’s first Great Recession – was the beginning of the end for the bourgeois proletariat.
Had Nixon survived Watergate, he might have set the nation on a course that emphasized government regulation of the economy, and trade protection as a response to globalism.
We might also have preserved more of the manufacturing base necessary for a strong middle class.
The shrinking of the middle class is not a failure of capitalism. Capitalism has been doing exactly what it was designed to do: concentrating wealth in the ownership class, while providing the mass of workers with just enough wages to feed, house and clothe themselves.
Young people who graduate from college to .80 an hour jobs as sales clerks or data processors are giving up on the concept of employment as a vehicle for improving their financial fortunes: In a recent survey, 24 percent defined the American dream as “not being in debt.” They’re not trying to get ahead. That’s the natural drift of the relationship between capital and labor, and it can only be arrested by an activist government that chooses to step in as a referee.
Where nothing is left for the middle-aged, or the middle class, it’s difficult to be both.The corporation they’d expected to spend their careers with divorced them in middle age, and now they had to bridge the years until Social Security and Medicare. After earning a degree in human resources management, Galipeau found that 56 was too old to start a new career.Eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance, because her job had moved overseas, Voss earned a two-year degree in health information technology – “a fancy way of saying medical records.”Even with the degree, Voss couldn’t find decent-paying work in healthcare, so she took a job with a sump pump manufacturer, for .47 an hour -- a substantial drop from Carrier, but decent money for Central New York in the A. Fortunate enough to draw a full pension from Carrier, Galipeau took a part-time job at a supermarket meat counter, for the health insurance.I grew up in an automaking town in the 1970s, when it was still possible for a high school graduate -- or even a high school dropout -- to get a job on an assembly line and earn more money than a high school teacher.“I had this student,” my history teacher once told me, “a real chucklehead. Dropped out of school, a year or so later, he came back to see me.He pointed out the window at a brand-new Camaro and said, ‘That’s my car.’ Meanwhile, I was driving a beat-up station wagon.
It’s an order in which the many toil for subsistence wages to provide luxuries for the few.