What drives quality of life and how do you assess the circumstances of the middle class?
If quality of life relates to access to sufficient food and shelter to ensure good health, then an overwhelming plurality of American’s have good quality of life.
If quality of life improves when you have access to devices that reduce the time and labor required to maintain your living conditions, and if your circumstances provide tools and devices to make your leisure time more productive, then your average American is living in an era of unparalleled quality.
The chart to the right forms the basis of an argument by W. Michael Cox of AOLNews that suggesting that the American Middle Class is oppressed ignores the remarkable penetration of devices that save time, create connections and entertain in the average American’s life.
My inner technophile loves the chart for the increasing speed of adoption cycles. Note also that the advent of microelectronics has accelerated the adoption of devices that connect people to information and each other. We are in the middle of a second great information revolution, of as much consequence as the proliferation of the popular press in the 18th Century.
But, electronic media is often called the opiate of the masses.
Perhaps Cox believes that unlimited access to media offsets an unsettling shift in income distribution over the past 20 years.
As the Huffington Post reports:
Beginning in the economic expansion of the early 1990s, Saez argues, the economy began to favor the top tiers American earners, but much of the country missed was left behind. “The top 1 percent incomes captured half of the overall economic growth over the period 1993-2007,” Saes writes.
Yes, all these devices cost less, and the average American consumer can afford more cool devices.
But when 60% of the population makes 40% of the income, that creates a wide swath of people who have no safety net, and who more often than not are borrowing just to keep up.
The question of the state of the Middle Class isn’t as simple as questions of food and shelter. It isn’t as easy to define as the access people have to electronic devices.
The state of the middle class is captured in how secure they feel in the world that they experience. The proliferation of media causes dissonance: Images of luxury clash with the reality of daily struggles. No one thing captures the state of the middle class. When Obama talks about rescuing people from their struggles, he is capturing a key element of the zeitgeist. His weakness is his disposition to using the tools of government as the primary release of stress.
The greater question I find myself coming up against again and again is whether leadership can change the culture of a country, can shift values and redeploy the spirit of the citizenship to advance the greater interests of all.
Yesterday, I ran into a retired economist. We talked briefly about the current economic and political situation. His final comment:
Capitalism is an economic system driven by greed. When every part of the system is looking to maximize profits, there has to be suffering. You can’t have everybody be winners. There have to be losers. We lost sight of that.
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