2016, Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama, GOPocrisy — January 11, 2015 at 10:44 am

Everything is awesome (compared to the last 14 years) — but the middle class is still dying



First they sabotage you;then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they take credit for your economy.

Bill Clinton learned this lesson long ago. Now Mitch McConnell is trying to teach it to President Obama. In an op-ed last week, he made ridiculous claim that anticipation of a Republican Senate is in some way responsible of an economic recovery that would have taken place long ago if it weren’t for GOP-created crises that led to GOP-enforced austerity.

McConnell isn’t stupid. He turned being one of the least popular Senators in the nation into an easy re-election. He also knows forcing his opponents to rebut a ridiculous statement helps spread the idea, not dispel it.

At least one Democrat wouldn’t mind giving Republicans some credit for this recovery.

In an important speech to the AFL-CIO’s Nation Summit on Raising Wages, Senator Elizabeth Warren took on the notion that anyone should be satisfied with the economic climate workers face:

I recently read an article in Politico called “Everything is Awesome.” The article detailed the good news about the economy: 5% GDP growth in the third quarter of 2014, unemployment under 6%, a new all-time high for the Dow, low inflation.Despite the headline, the author recognized that not everything is awesome, but his point has been repeated several times:  On many different statistical measures, the economy has improved and is continuing to improve. I think the President and his team deserve credit for the steps they’ve taken to get us here. In particular, job growth is a big deal, and we celebrate it…

But the overall picture doesn’t tell us much about what’s happening at ground level to tens of millions of Americans. Despite these cheery numbers, America’s middle class is in deep trouble.

10 million Americans gaining health insurance during the best year of job creation this century is a remarkable achievement, especially compared to 2001-2010 — a “lost decade” for American workers when 7.9 million Americans lost their insurance under George W. Bush.

We’re in the middle of the first recovery where the bottom 90 percent has actually seen their income shrink. When you add in the extraordinary measures the government made to bolster those struggling most and the recent new taxes on the rich, including those that are helping fund the Affordable Care Act, the situation looks a bit better.

But there’s no evidence that the withering of the middle class that began under Ronald Reagan has been reversed. Actually, the evidence shows that those who profit from playing with money are “crushing” those forced to work for it.

Democratic pollsters feel their candidates were crushed in 2014 because they didn’t make a case that their policies would will help the middle class. And President Obama has sought to confront this directly with a transformative idea — tuition-free community college.

But we need to think even bigger, in almost every way.

No one is better at making the case that working Americans will never be free to prosper if we’re governed by corporations than Elizabeth Warren.

From her speech at the Wage Summit:

  • We believe in making investments – in roads and bridges and power grids, in education, in research – investments that create good jobs in the short run and help us build new opportunities over the long run.
  • And we believe in paying for them-not with magical accounting scams that pretend to cut taxes and raise revenue, but with real, honest-to-goodness changes that make sure that we pay-and corporations pay-a fair share to build a future for all of us.
  • We believe in trade policies and tax codes that will strengthen our economy, raise our living standards, and create American jobs – and we will never give up on those three words: Made in America.

And one more point.  If we’re ever going to un-rig the system, then we need to make some important political changes.  And here’s where we start:

  • We know that democracy doesn’t work when congressmen and regulators bow down to Wall Street’s political power – and that means it’s time to break up the Wall Street banks and remind politicians that they don’t work for the big banks, they work for US!

These basic values that created the middle class need to restored. But they won’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

Why do auto workers in Germany earn on average $66 an hour while America’s earn $33? Labor attorney Thomas Geoghegan argues it’s because workers play a direct role in corporate governance.

Since the early 80s, corporations have evolved from institutions that benefit owners and investors into trickle-down machines designed to only generate profits for CEOs, board members, and investors, as William Lazonick explains. And that can only be ended by stopping stock buybacks that manipulate share prices and giving workers a significant say in how companies are run.

Labor will never back on equal footing with capital until we end tax breaks that favor investors over workers. And this will never happen until America’s left realizes it’s being crushed by the right’s constant pro-corporate propaganda machine and launches a perpetual campaign in favor of shared prosperity of its own.

Yes, everything is awesome compared to the Bush era.

But just as we are still reckoning with W.’s failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are still being cornered into a new Gilded Age by inequality, the direct result of three decades of conservative governance.

For real awesomeness to ensue, we must demand a resurrection of the middle class.

[Photo by Eric Haynes via Flickr]


I was introduced to the work of Geoghegan and Lazonick by the excellent Majority Report with Sam Seder. These interviews are worth your time: