Having grown up in the 1950s and 60s I am very much entrenched in the idea of a middle class society. That is where the average working person got a share of the prosperity of the times. But in looking back at history it now seems apparent to me that the “middle class”, at least as we knew it then probably an anomaly of our times.
The middle class is a result of the Ford model for the economy. That is where the workers are paid a living wage and they would then build a community where they could afford to buy the products they make. We have much to thank Henry Ford for those times. Ford came upon the scenes shortly after the age of the “Robber Barrons”. The barons were Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carniege, JP Morgan, and Fisk. These guys were mostly consumed by their desire for wealth and ruthlessly destroying their competition. They had little respect for the workers they employed. They were a mere tool for their greed for ever increasing wealth. Their employees generally worked six to seven days a week for twelve hours a day. They often got a little than a dollar a day. If you got sick you lost your job. If you died because of an industrial accident your family was pretty much on their own. We learned that this is what you get with unbridled capitalism.
About the time that Teddy Roosevelt was taking down these what some call the ultimate capitalists and their monopolies Henry Ford got the idea of building a car for the masses. Part of that plan was to give his workers almost twice the current wage (about $5 per day) and to also give them a forty hour work week. This was totally` unheard of in those times. As a result the Ford workers were the most loyal workers around. They treated Ford as well as the company treated them.
Now there is a shift in values away from the workers and back to the owners. From the working class back to the upperclass. I know that the term “middle class” gets a lot of coverage by our politicians but the definition has pretty much changed in the process. Middle class now seems to be anyone with a steady job (or jobs). Will we ever see the average workers again being paid a living wage? Is three or four minimum wage jobs in a family the new norm? It is estimated that seven out of ten jobs in this country will soon be at minimum wage levels. Is that the new norm?
Many blame global competition for this lowering of wages and working people’s value. They blame “free trade”. They say that we need fair trade not free trade. I don’t know, maybe the working man’s prosperity of the 1960s and 70s were just a blip on our radar screen. The very old saying that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer has been around for a long time.
But I’m just a simple guy so what do I know….
5 thoughts on “The Middle Class….”
I think the 50s & 60s were also a very unique time because of lack of foreign competition. Europe & Japan were still rebuilding from WWII. However the 70s brought more foreign competition with Europe & Japan back up to speed and that impacted the bottom line for US companies. They really did not know how to react to this. Company policies started changing to things that would quickly impact the bottom line, not the employee. I do believe moving forward from that point (the Reagan years) the country was very much more concerned with fiscal policy than social policy. Probably one of the reasons why Reagan got 489 Electoral votes in the 1980 election.
The ebb & flow still continues. But for those of us who experienced those “middle class” days, as you said, probably an anomaly.
Thanks for the further explanations Scott. Yes, the Reagan years started a very distinct shift away from people towards profits/fiscal policy as you say. I think in today’s terms Reagan would probably be considered a liberal and of course he was the first to massively increase the deficits (so much for conservative fiscal policy from him). Instead of social things he spent it on tax breaks for the upper classes so it could trickle down to the rest of us. We seem to still be living with that erroneous thought even today.
The odd thing about that time, the 80s, my Dad’s nest egg grew like crazy and made it possible for him to retire early at 59 1/2, it did work. I remember him telling about his CD rates, 401k matching and such – incedible rates of return. Yes, it did not last, but for him, it provided 19 years of a really good retirement. He really only started getting serious about his retirement savings 10 years before he retired. I, on the other hand in this day in time, will not be as fortunate as he was..
I see lots of finger pointing.
Do any of these fingers point at you?
I know they point at me…. for I benefited from the rise of the middle class and now can retire because of that rise. My children will have some residual effect, maybe.
Let “them” point fingers all they want. Just because we managed to hang on to some power for the workers and “They” let it slip away is not my fault. Let them march in the streets for a little bit of equality for the workers like we did. The profits of the big corporations are actually higher now than they were when we worked and that is because they are keeping the money that we grabbed our share of. As Will would say “that ain’t my fault”. 🙂