The Elites Are Unanimous: Lower Everyone’s Wages and Standard of Living — Except They Don’t Say it Out Loud:
Calls for a bipartisan “Grand Bargain” on taxes and spending for the next decade ring out daily, if not hourly, from the politicians and pundits who dominate our political media. But the national discourse is silent on the tacit agreement both parties have already made on the future that lies ahead for the majority of working Americans: a dramatic drop in their living standards. The United States can no longer satisfy the three great dreams that have driven most of its domestic politics since the end of World War II: the multinational corporate class’s dream of limitless profits; the military-industrial complex’s dream of global hegemony; and the dream of the people for rising incomes and expanding opportunities. One out of three? Certainly. Two out of three? Maybe. All three? No. So far, Corporate America gets priority boarding in the economic lifeboat – with the safest seats reserved for Wall Street. Four years after the crash, the financial sector remains heavily subsidized with cheap federal loans that it uses to buy higher yielding bonds, speculate in exotic IOUs and pay outrageous salaries to those at the top. Larger than ever, they are more than ever “too big to fail.” As a result, Wall Street continues to divert the nation’s capital away from investment in sustainable high-quality jobs in America. Next in line is the Pentagon and its vast network of corporate contractors, members of Congress with military facilities in their districts and media propagandists for the empire. The administration, along with some libertarian Republicans, insists that military spending will not be spared in the coming era of austerity, and has proposed modest cuts over the next decade. At the same time, virtually all of Washington supports the policies that require huge defense budgets, i.e., remaining in the Middle East, expanding in Latin America and containing China in its own neighborhood. The threatened across-the-board cuts in federal spending that become automatic if a long- term budget deal is not made by December will almost certainly be finessed in order to protect the military budget. All of which leaves the American middle class on a badly listing, although not yet sinking, economic ship. Even before the financial crash, real wages for the typical American worker had been stagnant for 30 years as a result of: 1) trade and investment deregulation that shoved American workers into a brutally competitive global labor market for which they were unprepared; 2) the relentless war on unions that began with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980; and 3) more recently, the erosion of the social safety net for low wage workers and the unemployed. Still, workers continued to spend, and thus maintain national economic growth. While hourly wages flattened, overall family income rose because more women went to work. And cheap and accessible credit fueled everyone’s purchasing power Today, with more women than men now employed, gains to family income from sending the wife to work are about exhausted. And given the huge overhang of non-payable debt on the part of both banks and consumers it will be a generation, if ever, before we see anther credit balloon strong enough to lift up the economy. So, now that these financial props have been knocked away, the trajectory of American incomes and living standards is a downward slope. The squeeze is not limited to workers in export or import-vulnerable industries. Wages and salaries are now falling across the board, in services and manufacturing sectors, among women and men, young and old. Health and pension benefits are being slashed and businesses are getting their work done with part-time and temporary workers, often supplied by labor contractors whose own survival depends on hiring labor at the cheapest rate possible. Majorities think that the next generation is going to be worse off, but they expect that they, personally, and their kids will be okay. So, while they might agree with the points made by the Wall Street Occupiers, it’s not worth the effort to join the protest. A PEW poll last fall reported that by a margin of 63-21 Americans believed that, “although there may be bad times every now and then, America will always continue to be prosperous and make economic progress.” The American writer James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Until Americans face that they and their kids will not be okay, and that their own personal future depends on their ability to find leaders to willing to act on that reality, the implicit Washington grand bargain will remain in force. And we will continue on the road toward lower wages, falling living standards and blasted hopes.