BELL TOLLS FOR MIDDLE CLASS AMERICA - Opportunity Has Flung Itself To A Distant Horizon

(10/14/2008)

2008 COMMENT By Bob Weaver

My dad Giff lived into the new millennium, dying in 2000 at the age of 87. During his adult life, few weeks went by that he didn't recall the struggles of the Great Depression and World War II.

From those life experiences, he was imbued with sacrifice, perseverance and hope, a work hardiness to overcome the odds and come out the other side victorious.

He often said in the post-war years, "If a man wants to work, he'll find a job and make a living," for his family.

If Giff was a 21st Century person, his philosophy would be challenged.

In rural West Virginia he would struggle finding a job that pays a living wage within driving distance, certainly without a college education.

The opportunities have dwindled, even low-paying production jobs have been shifted abroad, with WalMart becoming the state's largest employer.

We now have fewer and fewer opportunities for American citizens to find a niche in the job market, a decent paying job with health and retirement benefits.

We're told we have mostly become a consumer economy, with job creation centered on service industries.

While politicians alluded to the Middle Class during the election season, the blue-collar worker that built the nation is scarcely part of the American Dream.

American capitalism did "spread the wealth" during the post-war years and those fabulous 1950s.

Then came "free trade," deregulation and the globalized economy, where the American middle class is competing with low-paying jobs abroad with no benefits.

In West Virginia, tens of thousands of low-paying blue collar jobs left the state with thousands of better-paying manufacturing jobs.

Some of us can recall the opportunity that once existed, getting out of high school with opportunities everywhere.

In his best selling book "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," Bill Bryson eloquently speaks about those post-war times in the 1950s, which I constantly reminisce about.

Bryson chokes up when he says "I can’t imagine there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive."

When the war ended the US had $26 billion worth of factories, $140 billion in savings and war bonds just waiting to be spent, and practically to competition.

Bryson says by 1951, almost 90% of American families had refrigerators, 75% had washing machines, telephones, vacuum cleaners and gas or electric stoves.

The rest of the world could only fantasize.

"The US owned 80% of the world's electric goods, controlled two-thirds of of the world's productive capacity, produced more than 40% of the world's electricity, 60% of the oil and 66% of the steel," wrote Bryson.

The 5% of people on planet earth fortunate enough to live in the USA had more wealth than the other 95% combined.

Nearly all of this wealth was American made.

In the 50s, of the 7.5 million new cars sold in America, 99% were made in America for Americans.

I will not indulge you with statistics, except to say virtually all financial indicators from deficits to the national debt, the made in China syndrome with an enormous trade deficit, have resulted in stagnant wages since 1980 with fewer benefits and fewer opportunities.

America is now a multi-trillion dollar debtor nation, while the government tells us this is good for us.

All of this before the worst economic collapse of America's unfettered free market financial institutions.

Opportunity has now flung itself to a distant horizon.

Meanwhile we can cling to Bryson's vivid and nostalgic description of the 1950s, while listening to the political parties blame the other, full of sound and fury, forcing us to take sides, when in fact, they're mostly bedfellows.


Hur Herald ®from Sunny Cal
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