First, a personal note. Sorry I've been away from the blog for awhile. Everything is O.K. but April is a bad month, what with taxes and an idiotic court-required guardianship asset accounting in excruciating detail, required annually to prove I'm not robbing my wife blind. That's all done now, so I'm back. Don't all cheer at once.
Both of my parents immigrated from Germany in the late 1920's, They were escaping the horrendous depression that had gripped their homeland since the end of World War I. The unwise draconian provisions of the Versailles Treaty were designed to insure that Germany would never rise again. What they succeeded in doing was to destroy the German economy along with the lack of young labor due to war casualties. The mandated governmental system--the Weimar Republic--was ineffectual and disorganized, unable to right the ship. The net result, of course, was to create huge resentment which helped fuel the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist (NAZI) Party. Guess that didn't work too well, did it?
Anyway, my parents, especially my father, came here for the promised opportunity afforded by a classless economic and social system that permitted upward mobility based on talent and hard work. There was no "middle class" or "upper class." There were poor of course--there always have been and will be--but even they had opportunity to climb the economic ladder and many did. Even they were not labeled a "class".
Sadly, what my parents and many others ran into was our own 1929 depression that shattered many an American Dream. They struggled, and despite the hard times, my father found work and a very modest income that kept a roof over our heads and food on the table. I never really felt poor, just not as well-off as some other folks. Father worked at anything he could find, even a short stint in the WPA which he never considered welfare because he worked for the meager wages. (He helped build a "road to nowhere" in a county park.)
He even took a job as a janitor in an apartment building in a black area of Cleveland (East 86th Street) because it came with a tiny basement apartment. I still can picture the single small rectangular window high on the wall of my bedroom. I attended an all-black elementary school (Bolton School; it still exists) and perhaps the best friend I ever had in my youth was a black kid by the name of Clifford Eucker. I remember his mother made him wear knickers to school, which he hated. Father always had crummy jobs, partly a result of the depression and partly due to some bad decisions. But he still loved this country and the opportunities it presented.
The Founders deliberately created a system that avoided the semi-feudalism prevalent in Europe, remnants of which exist even today in many countries both there and even more so in Asia. Yes, there was slavery here which was decried by some but sadly countenanced by others at the time. Nothing is perfect. The unfettered Adam Smith economic system was considered a model. While there were excesses, the result was an unprecedented economic expansion into the world's greatest economic engine, largely responsible for building the society that we enjoy today. Even our so-called "poor" today are often considerably better off than the poor of other parts of the world.
The great motivator of economic expansion is free enterprise and the promise of hard-earned reward. Poor could become comfortable and the comfortable could become rich. Yes, there's an element of greed in the system, but enlightened greed is not all bad. The great advantage of a classless social system and a free enterprise, Capitalist economy is the powerful motivation and opportunity to better oneself.
But times they are a-changin". Today we hear constant reference to the "rich" and the "middle class." There was no middle class whien I was growing up. At least I never heard the term. There was no "wealthy class," just folks who had done better than most of us. There was an attempt after World War II to "soak the rich" to help reduce the deficit from the war. Confiscatory tax rates of up to 91% were levied. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence was business and professional folks, who it turned out were the folks who kept the country running--stopped working part of the year and the government got less in taxes than before. (Sounds a little like Ayn Rand, doesn't it?)
I challenge anyone to precisely define the "middle class" we constantly hear about. Is it a single female legal assistant in New York making $85,000 a year, or the farm family in Kansas with an income of $60,000? How about the owner of a small plumbing shop making $110,000? Shoot, I made that much the last few years I worked. Was I rich? I didn't think so. Then there's the novelist who finally writes a good one and makes $275,000 in one year. Is he rich, considering that he made zilch in previous years?
The fact is, this business of class designations is a relatively recent political construct designed to create envy. The political system in this country--Republican as well as Democrat--has manufactured a class envy paradigm strictly to get votes and gain power. Democrats claim Republicans love the upper class and disdain the middle class and the poor. Republicans claim Democrats pander to the working classes and the poor to get votes. The elderly get stuck somewhere in the middle of all this. Sadly, the current administration seems particularly inclined to toss around class labels. This is grossly irresponsible and detrimental to the welfare of the nation.
The result is conflict and anger all around us, which is dangerous in the extreme. The great advantage of this country is its melting pot paradigm, with all citizens living and working together to better themselves. E Pluribus Unum really meant something years ago. What does it mean today except something printed on money?
Someone once said "divide and conquer." Karl Marx advocated class struggle in the Communist Manifesto. We're headed in a bad direction, folks. If this manufactured class warfare continues, we will indeed be "divided and conquered."
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