To report on how our economy is doing, media outlets keep a constant eye on the Dow Jones Average. But they’re like cats watching the wrong mouse hole, for the great majority of Americans have between zero and next-to-nothing in the stock market.
The economic measure that matters most to most folks is the Doug Jones Average. The Doug is concerned about such key indicators as the pump price on a gallon of regular, the subprime value of today’s seven-and-a-quarter minimum wage and the impact of global inflationary pressures on the cost of a six-pack.
So, how’re Doug and Dottie Jones doing? Not well, report the number-crunchers at the Federal Reserve. In the latest Survey of Consumer Finances, Fed economists found that from 2007 through 2010, all but the wealthiest 10 percent of American households have been downwardly mobile, with the median net worth of U.S. households tumbling by a startling 39 percent, falling to the lowest level in 20 years.
In short, Americans are not merely feeling poorer — they are. Foreclosures, lost jobs, wage declines and other reductions (combined with rising costs of everything from gasoline to child care) have become the norm, even shoving many proud middle-classers onto food stamp rolls. Yet Washington remains fixated on propping up Wall Street’s moneyed elites.
Congressional Republicans are actually clamoring for more financial deregulation and tax giveaways to coddle Wall Streeters (the same disastrous approach that caused the mess we’re in) while also voting to slash funding for the food stamp program that more and more people need.
To keep a mighty tree, alive you must nourish the grassroots, not just spritz the few leaves at the top. But Washington has become a town of leaf-spritzers, ignoring the massive housing crunch, ongoing joblessness and mounting consumer debt. Indeed, three-fourths of Americans today have more invested in their aging cars and trucks than in stocks (and, by the way, those vehicles — which are the chief asset for millions of people — now average 11 years old). To know which way the economic winds are blowing, lawmakers could simply check the daily newspaper headlines: “Underemployed and Underpaid,” “Shrinking Consumers” and “Economy Leaving Lost Generation.”
Winds of hurricane force are knocking down the Joneses — America’s workaday majority. This is not the natural workings of inscrutable market forces, as the financial elite want us to believe, but a direct hit from the ethos of plutocratic greed that now prevails among of our country’s corporate and governmental decision-makers. They keep putting the short-term selfish interests of the few over the future well-being of America’s many — national interest be damned.
Another headline offers a galling example of this: “China Takes Tech Tips From Silicon Valley.” The story behind the headline is that Chinese officials intend to zoom their country ahead of ours as leader of the world’s “knowledge economy.” Who’s helping them make this Great Leap Forward over the U.S.A.? Our own venture capitalists, corporate executives and university officials. Already, the prestigious college of engineering at UC Berkeley is opening a multimillion-dollar research and instructional school in Shanghai to teach “Silicon Valley 101” to the next generation of Chinese. It was paid for and built by the Chinese. As a Berkeley research dean explained, “The bottom line is, if there are resources in China, we would be foolish not to go there.”
But whose bottom line is being served — and who is being played for a fool? Only a dozen years ago, America’s middle-class workers were told not to fight the offshoring of their good-paying manufacturing jobs because their future lay in the sparkling, new knowledge-based economy. But we now see Silicon Valley itself hightailing it to China, transferring America’s technical knowledge, competitive edge and middle-class future nearly 7,000 miles away.
Incredibly, this crass betrayal of America’s workaday majority is not even being talked about in this year’s elections. To force the issue of middle-class decline to the top of Washington’s agenda, We the People must raise some serious hell at the grassroots level. We must become less timid and start getting in the face of our own congress-critters, because they’re failing us. The demise of the middle class is the demise of America itself. We can’t be silent about that.
For information you can use, go to www.AmericanManufacturing.org.
To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.