It’s been well covered, but in this first article of the year, let’s take a look at the collapse of this most important segment of society.
The American middle class is fast disappearing, not because there is anything particularly wrong with the people involved – they are every bit as talented as their parents and grandparents were – but because the ruling class of the United States has pushed them into this position.
This middle class was once composed of proud and productive people… the kind who now exist primarily in advertisements for trucks. These people and their abilities remain, but Washington has taken power over nearly every choice they have and thinks of them only for the purposes of voting, fighting in wars, and creating more debt (aka buying stuff they don’t need).
These people are at a crossroads, facing fundamental choices about who they are and what they will be. The big threat in front of them is that by not stopping, thinking, and choosing (and it’s always easier to do nothing), they’ll stay on the path that has been grinding them into the dirt.
The Fall of the Middle Class in 60 Seconds
The first wave that undercut the American middle class hit roughly one hundred years ago, stripping away their surplus with income taxes, sales taxes, and debt-based money. This continues, transferring wealth from working people to governments and central bankers.
Older members of the American middle class will remember that small, self-employed farmers were once the backbone of the culture. These family businesses are now all but gone. Large farms remain, of course, but they have become, effectively, partners of the government and giant corporations. Gaps and exceptions remain, but the classic American farming family exists mainly on the fringes.
Self-employed people – shop-owners, mechanics, and so on – were another old American staple, and they are vanishing too, as you can see in this graph:
The modern refuge for productive Americans was in manufacturing. But even manufacturing is dying in America. In 1977, there were nearly 20 million manufacturing jobs. Today – and with a much higher population – there are less than 12 million manufacturing jobs. (See graph below.)
Service jobs are fine, but there are not enough of them. And because of overwhelming demand, they pay poorly.
The Replacement Bubble
There has been one area in which young Americans could find both employment and lavish praise, and that has been as cogs in the military-industrial complex.
But regardless of the worship services that begin every sporting event, this cultural bubble is starting to deflate. The great surge of 9/11 has subsided and new wars have been difficult to sell. We have passed peak military-industrial complex, and the reflexive worship of intelligence agencies is passing as well. (Thank you again, Edward Snowden.)
In addition, traditional Americans are starting to wonder how their Christianity became a war religion. Red State Christianity is a kingdom divided against itself. War is simply not a Jesus thing, and state worship is definitely not a Jesus thing. So, when these churches encourage Bible reading, they sow the seeds of their own undoing. Young believers will soon be quoting scriptures against the “leaders” and walking away.
Thirdly, thousands of returning soldiers are discouraging their friends and neighbors from running off to “the glories of war.” People who have been in it know that war is horrifying and damaging. They are providing a lot of personal evidence of this, either by their words or by their (sadly common) debilitating injuries and suicides.
The number of jobs available in this replacement bubble are fading, and the glory of them is fading as well.
Go Corporate or Go Rogue
Consider the situation that faces the American middle class: The old ways are almost gone. The replacement that was sold to them kills or damages them and is vanishing anyway. The welfare life beckons, featuring free stuff and permanent dependence, but that’s not really their way – these people were raised on a healthy production ethic.
But what else stands in front of them? As the number of “good jobs” continues to decline, what realistic options do they have?
The approved choice is to go corporate: Take a menial job at Walmart, Starbucks, or McDonalds, take a side-job or two to survive, and slowly work your way up through management.
Or, if you have the appropriate university certificates (which come with crushing debt), you can be hired by a mega-corp – an oil company, or a tech company, or perhaps by government itself. We all know what happens in these places: Human character is warped, and the corporate script takes over all your life. You end up living of the corp, by the corp, and for the corp.
The one remaining choice is to go rogue. By that I mean to separate from the system, stop seeking its approval, and to live the life of an outsider.
Some Americans are already choosing the rogue life, of course. Every time they homeschool their children, grow their own food, trade via barter or Bitcoin, start 3D printing, or join an intentional community and accept people calling them weird, they are resigning from the mass culture and going rogue.
This is the oldest of American traditions, of course – the one chosen by every person who got on a boat between 1600 and 1900 and sailed off to a new continent. But this way of thinking hasn’t been popular in a long time. Conformity with the mass culture reigns, and separating from it requires considerable strength of character.
What Comes Next?
Over the next decade or so, traditional, middle class Americans will have to choose.
Many will go the corporate route and accept its slow self-punishment. Some will eventually drop out of this game and join the rogues, but others will live the corporation’s pre-scripted lives, then die.
Or, they can join the welfare class and explore new opportunities in degradation.
But if they can build their own courage and walk away from game, they will help to rebuild a confident civilization with a bright future.
My guess is that the once-productive American middle class is already starting to wake up. Each new disappointment drives more of them to go rogue and to start building a better future – their kind of future – not the one that is sold to them by Washington, New York, and Hollywood.
And that is the most encouraging thing of all.