Mon 3 Sep, 2012 11:31 am
The Betrayal of the American Dream
by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
Publication Date: July 31, 2012
A New York Times bestseller
America’s unique prosperity is based on its creation of a middle class. In the twentieth century, that middle class provided the workforce, the educated skills, and the demand that gave life to the world’s greatest consumer economy. It was innovative and dynamic; it eclipsed old imperial systems and colonial archetypes. It gave rise to a dream: that if you worked hard and followed the rules you would prosper in America, and your children would enjoy a better life than yours.
The American dream was the lure to gifted immigrants and the birthright opportunity for every American citizen. It is as important a part of the history of the country as the passing of the Bill of Rights, the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg, or the space program. Incredibly, however, for more than thirty years, government and big business in America have conspired to roll back the American dream. What was once accessible to a wide swath of the population is increasingly open only to a privileged few.
The story of how the American middle class has been systematically impoverished and its prospects thwarted in favor of a new ruling elite is at the heart of this extraordinarily timely and revealing book, whose devastating findings from two of the finest investigative reporters in the country will leave you astonished and angry.
Booklist, **starred** review
“Barlett and Steele address key elements of this betrayal [of the middle class] (globalization, outsourcing, taxes, pensions, financial-sector dominance), then offer suggestions for reversing it, including progressive tax reform, fair trade, infrastructure investment, focused retraining, and criminal prosecution of white-collar criminals. Expect demand.”
Columbia Journalism Review
“The dedication reveals the emotional heart of their enterprise: Not merely number-crunching chroniclers of middle-class decline, they are invested in the fate of the people who exemplify it. Barlett and Steele’s preeminent talent is their knack for combining the micro and the macro. They look systemically at issues and policies, from the US tax code to healthcare. The questions they ask are both pragmatic (Does the system work?) and ideological (Who is benefiting, and at whose expense?). Their conclusions are buttressed by details gleaned from public records. But they also use the paper trail to track down the system’s apparent victims…the laid-off, the discarded, the pensionless, and the uninsured.”
“The ostensibly willful destruction of the American middle class is laid bare in this villains and underdogs story from the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting duo…for folks bowled over by the recent financial meltdown, Barlett and Steele's book will resonate.”
Leonard Downie, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Just in time for this year's election, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are continuing the crusade to save the American middle class that they began two decades ago as star investigative reporters at The Philadelphia Inquirer….At a time when the future of investigative reporting is at risk in the digital reconstruction of American news media, Barlett and Steele could once again pioneer new ways of doing it, as they did in part through this collaboration with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. In any event, the publication of The Betrayal of the American Dream during the home stretch of the national political campaign injects a provocative populist imperative into an increasingly intense and perhaps decisive partisan debate over the fate of the American middle class.”
“The avuncular pair, renowned for chillingly accurate, if uncomfortable, observations, have meticulously sharpened their analysis. Now, four decades of mistaken tax and trade policy, declining public and private investment and willing disregard of existing laws have crippled many American industries and sent thousands upon thousands of U.S. jobs overseas without cause, they say. Given the power of their past groundbreaking work on health care, the economy and other political hot potatoes that shape how all Americans live, ‘‘Betrayal’’ merits a careful read from anyone concerned about the nation’s economic future. It is almost haunting…They dissect one industry after another with the precision and narrative flair that have won them many awards, including two Pulitzers.…The writers conclude with a cogent plan for substantial, specific changes to rehabilitate the American dream and rescue the middle class."
Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star
"If ever there were a time to pitch a national read-in, this is it...The text we should all be reading is ‘The Betrayal of the American Dream,’ by the reporting team of Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele. Published this month, the book is a nuanced and well-researched report on the crisis of the American middle class.”
About the Authors
Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are the nation’s most honored investigative reporting team, and authors of the New York Times bestseller America: What Went Wrong? They have worked together for more than forty years, first at the Philadelphia Inquirer (1971–1997), then at Time magazine (1997–2006), and now at Vanity Fair since 2006. They have also written seven books. They are the only reporting team ever to have received two Pulitzer Prizes for newspaper reporting and two National Magazine Awards for magazine work. They live in Philadelphia.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth about the Disappearing American Dream July 30, 2012 By EK1976
The Betrayal of the American Dream does a good job of cataloging the assault on the American middle class. The book is easy to read and includes lots of personal narratives about real people and how their lives have been affected by policies that diminish the economic prospects for average people.
The book's basic argument is that the economic elite (the wealthy few) have pushed through policies that benefit themselves at the expense of the vast majority of working Americans. The main areas covered by the book are: The campaign to lower taxes on the rich: (The top rate on the super-wealthy was 92% in the 1950's, but only 35% today). The assault on middle class retirement. (85,000 pension plans have been eliminated since 1985). And, especially, free trade and deregulation, which have allowed companies to ship millions of jobs to low wage countries.
Much of the book is really about unbridled free trade and offshoring and how it has resulted in huge job losses (especially good middle class jobs). The book does a really good job of showing that globalization is not just affecting unskilled and manufacturing jobs, but it is now hitting hard at good jobs in technical areas that require lots of education. For example, in 1990 there were 565,000 computer programming jobs in the U.S, and everyone expected that number to grow. Computers, after all, were the future. However, by 2006 the number of jobs had FALLEN to 435,000, largely because the jobs were being shipped to low wage countries. If today's college graduates, even in technical fields like computer science, are seeing less opportunity, then it seems very hard to be optimistic about the prospects for the next generation. And it seems clear that more education (and more student debt) is not necessarily going to be a solution.
One thing the book doesn't emphasize enough is impact of technology and automation. For example a lot of information technology jobs have been lost to automation and cloud computing; it is not all offshoring. New technologies like 3d printing are sure to reduce the number of manufacturing jobs further, even in low wage countries. As technology advances rapidly in the new few years, it seems probable that the problems faced by the middle class we get even worse, and that will make it even more critical to have new policies that do more to protect average people.
For more on how technology and globalization will affect jobs and incomes, I'd also suggest reading The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, a book that is all about the future economy and job market.
5.0 out of 5 stars Exposes What Others Pretend Doesn't Exist - July 31, 2012
By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME
The authors have received two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Magazine Awards, as well as attaining NYTimes best-selling status for the prior 'America: What Went Wrong.' 'The Betrayal of the American Dream' is their latest of seven books.
The last forty years of public policy and Wall Street practices have relegated millions of Americans to the scrap heap - reduced 'real' earnings and health benefits, chronic job insecurity, and retirement with fewer and fewer benefits. Since 1985 almost 85,000 pension plans have been killed. Millions more have also lost their jobs and or their homes; over $19 trillion of household wealth was lost in the Great Recession, mostly in the housing market. Many had purchased fearing they would be priced out of the market. The difference between what individuals and corporations pay in taxes has increased from 22% in the 1950s to 62%. Astonishingly, this has all occurred in a democratic nations where the will of the people is supposed to prevail.
Factory jobs have declined by nearly half since 1979 when 21 million workers were employed in that sector. Last year there were only 11.7 million manufacturing jobs; this year has brought Harley-Davidson back into crisis, this time 'resolved' by cutting the work force in half. And now, we're losing service jobs in professional and technical fields. Concerns about jobs lost to other nations were originally minimized by economists as representing nothing more than an economy moving into new areas - turns out those new areas were primarily low-pay service jobs, often taken by illegals.
Middle Americans' options are shrinking. Twenty years ago you could move to find another job if you'd lost one. Now it may take a year to sell one's home (if at all), and the equity in your house may have vanished. CDs and savings don't pay enough to cover a meal at a fast-food restaurant.
Most new jobs created in the U.S. are in low-wage occupations (eg. home health, retail trade), and many are taken by illegals. We've been cutting red tape to help businesses prosper and create new jobs - but instead we got the economic collapse of 2008.
'Free Trade' advocates have told us that too would bring new jobs. Instead, it's brought decades of non-stop trade deficits totaling about $7 trillion, and increasing vulnerability to China working its way up the manufacturing 'food chain.' Apple, America's most profitable company, could easily absorb the increased costs of manufacturing in America, but chooses not to.
Americans need to read this book and wake up.
5.0 out of 5 stars ASSAULT ON THE MIDDLE CLASS! July 31, 2012
By Alan F. Sewell
I've read many books since 2008 describing how the Great Recession has diminished the prospects of the Middle Class and proposing remedies for restoring them. I've read books by Democrat-leaning economists like Robert Reich, Joseph Stiglitz, James Carville and Stan Greenberg, and Charles Ferguson, and by Republican-leaning economists like Charles Murray.
These books have all had the tone: "Well, golly gee, times are really tough, aren't they, and people are really, really suffering, but, well, you know, it's not really anybody's fault. These things happen. They're part of the natural economic cycle. If you're a Republican, we'll put you back to work by cutting your wealthy neighbor's taxes. If you're a Democrat, we'll put you back to work by sending you back to school and maybe fixing the pothole on the road in front of your house; maybe we'll even build you a bullet train to ride around on."
The American people who are suffering through this never-ending Great Recession have told both parties: "You're crazy! None of this talk from the Republicans about cutting taxes or from the Democrats about spending trillions of dollars more on education and showcase boondoggles makes any sense. What we need now is JOBS ---- Fair-wage jobs that aren't subject to layoffs at the drop of a hat --- jobs that will pay our mortgages, put our kids through college, and provide for our retirements."
Because the Republicans and Democrats aren't making any sense, the people have been cycling back and forth between them. In 2008 the Democrats won the White House and both houses of Congress. In 2010 the "Tea Party" Conservatives Republicans booted them out. Who knows what's going to happen in 2012? It could be a landslide for either party, a close election, or most people might just decide to stay home because they think neither party has any interest in them.
The Republicans and Democrats aren't making any sense because both parties are speaking from ideological platforms. Republican leaders only want tax cuts and less government regulation. The leaders of the Democratic Party are creatures of big government and the big business interests that profit by making a cozy nest with government. Both parties shamelessly prostitute themselves before corrupt banking and corporate interests. Both are for unconditional free trade, no matter how one-sided and destructive of American jobs. Both parties' leaders obfuscate, either through ignorance or intentional deception, the causes of the Great Recession and its remedies.
CUTTING THROUGH THE PARTISAN FOG
I wanted to know right away whether this book cuts through the partisan fog that other books use to obscure the causes of the Great Recession and our way out of it. The answer is a resounding "YES!" Authors Donald Barlett and James Steele make clear that the destruction of the Middle Class has been a DELIBERATE POLICY, not a natural part of the economic cycle:
THE BETRAYAL OF THE AMERICAN DREAM is the story of how a small number of people in power have deliberately put in place policies that have enriched themselves while cutting the ground out from underneath America's greatest asset--its middle class. Their actions, going back more than three decades, have relegated untold numbers of American men and women to the economic scrap heap--to lives of reduced earnings, chronic job insecurity, and a retirement with fewer and fewer benefits. Millions have lost their jobs. Others have lost their homes. Nearly all face an uncertain future.
The attack on the middle class goes back long before that. We warned that by squeezing the middle class, the nation was heading toward a two-class society dramatically imbalanced in favor of the wealthy. At the time, the plight of middle-class Americans victimized by corporate excess was dismissed by economists as nothing more than the result of a dynamic market economy in which some people lose jobs while others move into new jobs--"creative destruction," it was called. Soon, they said, the economy would create new opportunities and new jobs. We said, Don't believe it. What happened to the middle class...wasn't just a blip, but part of a disturbing pattern: a shift by Washington away from policies that had built the American middle class and enabled successive generations to do better than their parents, in favor of policies that catered to Wall Street, corporate chieftains, and America's wealthiest citizens.
In the process, both Democratic and Republican administrations ditched the notion that all Americans should be treated equally, that the playing field should be level for everyone. America must stop sacrificing its greatest asset. Because, without a middle class, there isn't really an America.
This book hammers home these themes of CALCULATED ASSAULT ON THE MIDDLE CLASS:
* The unbridled greed of predatory corporate managements that have waged economic genocide against their employees. How many times have we heard corporate CEOs bellow out that the employees must be fired because their jobs cost too much money in a global economy? Then the CEO raises his/her pay to stratospheric levels that would have been considered obscene by any previous standard. "Cost cutting" means cut everybody's pay except the CEO's.
* The primary objective of too many corrupt managements is to transfer the entire wealth of the company into their own greedy pockets. They raise cash to pay for their lavish lifestyles by mortgaging the company's assets and diverting its entire cash flow into personal use. The company withers and dies while the executives whoop it up on the money that rightly belongs to the company's shareholders and employees.
* That free trade is used to put Americans out of work by replacing their jobs with overseas peon labor. Free trade doesn't create wealth but merely transfers it from the 99% who work to the 1% who inhabit the executive suite. The book makes clear that Free Trade with low-wage countries is a jobs-destroyer. When NAFTA was enacted in 1994 we had a trade SURPLUS with Mexico. Today it is a sixty-five BILLION dollar trade DEFICIT that grows larger every year.
* The myth that we can grow our way out of the recession with exports: "Many of America's fastest-growing exports are commodities you'd expect to see shipped from a Third World country: nuts, animal feeds, rice, oilseeds and food oils, sorghum, barley and oats. There is only one category in which the nation is an undisputed export giant--civilian aircraft. But its days as an export powerhouse are numbered" (because China has learned how to copy Boeing's aircraft designs and soon will be producing their own home-grown models, which they will export to the world).
* The myth that the Foreign Guest Worker (H1-B Visa) program brings to America foreign entrepreneurs who will invest in American business and create new jobs. The truth is that most H1-B visas are requested by American corporations who want to replace their American employees with lower-paid foreign citizens.
* The education trap. Americans are spending more on education and getting less for it. Education doesn't put people to work in America when all the jobs that require education have been moved overseas.
* It explains how corporate raiders steal their employees' pensions by loading them into dummy subsidiaries that are intentionally steered into bankruptcy.
* It explains the economic CHAOS that results from excessive deregulation.
Unlike most other books on the economic crisis, this one then proposes MEANINGFUL reforms to get us out of it:
* They propose an efficient tax system that would tax income from all sources --wages, interest, dividends, rental income, capital gains and royalties according to one schedule with progressive tax rates topping out at 50% on incomes over $10,000,000. Conservatives will like the simplicity of the one-sheet tax form. Liberals will like its progressivity. The book is worth reading to glean this one idea alone!
* Reforming trade: "It's time our trade policy was asked to serve the interests of all Americans--not just the markets and the people who control those markets. A good place to start would be to limit subsidized imports and insist that foreign nations lower their barriers to our goods. That would go a long way toward ending our massive trade deficit."
* Invest in America and rebalance college educations with apprenticeship training. They recommend sensible investing in infrastructure, while avoiding the pitch to invest in economically deficient boondoggles like bullet trains and windfarms. They suggest that instead of trying to send EVERYBODY to college, we'd do better to steer some into apprenticeships in hands-on businesses.
* Uphold the Law. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have shown much interest in enforcing business and banking laws. The FBI warned way back in 2004 that the mortgage lending industry was riddled with fraud and banking crimes. Both parties in the White House and Congress laughed off the FBI's report. The people have paid for our politicians' negligence with trillions of dollars of bailouts and "stimulus" spending.
I think the book is deficient in only two regards:
* It doesn't emphasize the importance of raising the minimum wage. IMO the quickest way to recover the economy is to raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour. This would immediately increase the purchasing power of the tens of millions who have been shoved out of manufacturing jobs and into service jobs. This would enable them to purchase more goods and services, thereby increasing consumer demand and creating a virtuous cycle of restoring employment.