on July 30, 2012
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.
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.
Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele deliver a heartfelt, astonishing story about the Fall of the Middle Class, along with the American Dream. Investigative reports are presented on the betrayal of the American Dream, along with the crumbling of the Middle Class. A Class that once provided the workforce, educated skills, and the demand that gave life to the world's Greatest consumer economy. A Dynamic class, innovative, giving rise to a beautiful dream once upon a time. A Golden Promise was made many moons ago, work hard and simply follow the rules, then prosper in America. Part of that dream was also to make sure our children would live a better life than us, do we still feel the same way? What happened to the Middle Class, and the American Dream, can we really fix it? The reports revealed are sad and extremely thought-provoking in this powerful, extraordinary book that will make every American Ponder long after we close it. Highly Recommended!
on August 10, 2012
This is another book on the popular topic of inequality and the impending death of the middle class. Unlike many of the others, "The Betrayal of the American Dream" focuses more on the results and consequences of economic and political decisions than on the conflict between the parties. Perhaps I was set up for that overall impression having just read Mike Lofgren's "The Party Is Over," but Bartlett & Steele are also saying that both parties have been "in on the game" when it comes to making most of their decisions over the last 40 years in favor of what unfortunately has become our ruling class ... presidents, senators and representatives of both parties all working with the corporations and billionaires who "influence" them.
There's one subtle difference in how these authors describe that influence. Lofgren is a Republican staffer who worked in Congress for 28 years and saw the collusion up-close. He describes government decision-making in harsh terms where politicians knew exactly what they were doing when making these decisions ... that they made conscious calculations in favor of the corporations that would knowingly hurt the middle class. Bartlett & Steele focus more on the economic consequences of more macro decisions. For them, politicians weren't so much calculating as they were optimistic, idealistic and stupid. Their decisions about taxes, free trade, off-shoring, ending pensions, etc. were always wrong, and yet each successive administration put out the same rosy projections and always got played. One can only picture other countries coming back from the negotiating table laughing about the rubes running our country. Either way, it doesn't feel good being represented by politicians who were either on the take or naive.
A unique literary vehicle Bartlett & Steele use is the personal story that shows how specific middle-class individuals and families have been affected by these decisions. So you have bigger-picture discussions about how our government failed the middle class and then examples of how real people suffered as a result. I think it's good they do this to personalize the consequences. Of course, this makes some of their points feel a little like campaign ads but it helps you to compare your own situation, circumstances and personal aspirations to what has happened to others like you. The stories show how close to the edge we may all be if some unexpected disaster suddenly strikes -- not necessarily because of bad luck but because of big decisions made at much higher levels.
These books about inequality are being written because their authors believe that something must be done immediately or it will be impossible to reverse course. The feeling of desperation and betrayal is overpowering because it seems there is no one who can stop corporations and large political contributors from getting exactly what they want. That sense of futility comes across heavy in this book. Is there a conspiracy theory at work here? Not necessarily.
I had a glimpse of the global mentality when I worked for the second largest textile manufacturer in the early 80's. I started working on the manufacturing side of the business, producing video training about such topics as time & materials, using new technology and legally resisting union activities. While workers were seen as a cost of labor, there still seemed to be a shared sense of survival between management and labor. In my second three years with the company I transferred to NYC to work in their marketing group. They were trying desperately to sell their products in innovative ways through direct-mail and in-store kiosks. In my last project I produced a presentation for the CEO to make to a group he had recently joined -- a collection of "captains of industry" from the Fortune 200 in Mobile, AL. Oh to have been a fly on the wall in those meetings as these high-powered individuals discussed their strategies for maintaining their dominance. Two years after that meeting, that textile company was gone after 175 years in business. Despite moving their factories to the South where labor was cheaper ... despite bringing in technology and training their workers to produce high-quality goods cheaper and faster ... despite working with retailers and in joint ventures to save the business, they just couldn't compete with the cheap labor in Asia.
It seems to me that when American manufacturers like that textile manufacturer started losing ground over the last 30-40 years, the government and corporations started to get together and figure out ways to extend our influence. If labor was cheaper overseas, why not use it? It only makes sense that you would collaborate with others to save the business. The problem is that decisions like that have continued for so long now that it's hard to stop making them ... but don't worry, things will work out in the end for everyone. Yeah, right.
Before I read this book, I felt that American corporations really did want to protect the American middle class. I no longer feel that way. As the book points out, multi-national conglomerates now believe they can make just as much money helping the Chinese poor enter their middle class as they can helping ours stay there. I suspect if I went to another such gathering in Mobile, AL today there would be a whole different cast of characters. Not just those American captains of industry but also their off-shore partners and probably a healthy number of senators and congressmen to talk about where to go from here. The 1% is global now ... they've moved on. That's pretty scary for the rest of us.
on October 18, 2012
I consider myself a middle class American even though I only have a high school diploma. My husband and I were able to accomplish all the things our parents wished for us. We bought our first home shortly after we were married with just 5% down on an FHA loan. Because of a steady job with union benefits we raised our family, saved for retirement and now, in our retirement years, we feel pretty secure. We live modestly but comfortably on a combination of pensions and Social Security. But the rules have changed drastically for the younger generation. It saddens me more than I can say.
Anyone who wonders what the heck happened SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. I especially wish the leaders of our country would read it, although I think they know in their heart how they have all betrayed us. They have allowed the huge corporations of this country to decimate the middle class, and leave hopelessness in its wake.
on August 12, 2012
Because this is a book too compelling to not finish ... too relevant to ignore - even for a day - I need to write a review, after just having read the first chapter.... The book is simply too compelling ... we need to WAKE UP to a reality I personally *never* saw coming. (until today I more or less thought, "la-di-dah... we're American :):):)... a DEMOCRACY ... la-di-dah ... we'll always be a DEMOCRACY...".) Until today, I never found something that made economics so starkly relevant. Like many hard-working Americans, I don't have $$$ in the Cayman islands, or a Swiss bank account. I ***trusted*** my government to watch out for people like me.
Read it and share with others what you have learned! GET INVOLVED IN YOUR COUNTRY BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE!
1) The authors have expertise in this topic as evidenced by the numerous other books they have previously written on the same essential theme (the American economy...), the authors are credible, articulate, well-respected.
(2) The writing style is compelling - it's practically "compact" in that much critical information is packed into a sentence, a paragraph.
(3) I suggest researching topics as presented (aristocracy, "Citizen's United") - by themselves, they may appear 'dry' or 'innocuous'. Hardly!
(4) I seriously hope this book would become "required reading" in high school business, economics, history, etc., classes. It brings a subject many of us find 'dull' into a scary focus ("scary" - LOOK WHAT WE MAY BE MISSING... AND HEADING TOWARDS...)
on October 14, 2012
The Betrayal of the American Dream, written by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, describes how the U.S. government, big business, Wall Street financial power brokers, and America's own super rich have eroded the "American middle class" by, outsourcing the production jobs that made America's economy strong and by hiding huge profit money in foreign tax shelters. Barlett and Steele write an authoritative account of the focused and planned effort to eliminate the middle class since the 1970s. The authors have won 4 Pulitzer Prize awards for their work in newspapers and magazines. The book is written in the structure that reflects their background as investigative reporters, with facts being presented followed by substantial research to support them. Throughout the book, examples are given that describe how American workers have lost production jobs, been replaced by cheaper, foreign labor, lost wages, health benefits, retirement security and pensions, and the protection of equal trade laws with foreign countries. Our national debt to other countries soars as our gross national production plummets and our unemployment rises. While free trade agreements such as NAFTA have undermined American production jobs, The wealthiest of Americans avoid U.S. taxes by keeping their huge profits in foreign tax sheltered accounts, leaving the burden of taxation on the weakened middle class. "Any product or service in America can be imported or outsourced with little or no duty, regardless of where or how it is made." After a product or service has been outsourced (many to countries with little or no labor or quality standards), the companies that are cheating Americans out of jobs avoid U.S. taxes by holding huge profit money in foreign accounts. "The Caymans are home to far more corporations than they are to people." "Bank of America counted 115 subsidiaries in tax havens, with 59 of those in the Caymans. Bank of America and Citigroup, of course, were among the financial institutions that contributed to the economic trashing of the middle class and then shared in the government bailout for their handiwork." The authors use Vise-Grips as a typical example of outsourcing. Vise-Grips were invented in 1924 by a Nebraska farmer. He made the locking pliers himself and sold them to local farmers and mechanics. The demand became so great during World War II that the company employed hundreds of workers and generations of families enjoyed a secure work environment. After 84 years of American family owned operation, the company was sold to Newell Corporation, an international company. Vise-Grip production was moved to China, and the town of Dewitt, Nebraska was left to fend for itself. Without its largest employer, the town's grocery store and its newspaper quickly went out of business. People lost their insurance, their pensions, and many lost their houses to foreclosure. It is no secret that a crisis exists in the American economy. Barlett and Steele offer many examples of how the American middle class is being undermined by the U.S. policy makers and the lack of equal trade tariffs and duties. The American middle class, which was once the backbone of the U.S. economy, has been systematically deprived of security, insurance, retirement plans, health coverage, and fair taxation. The solution they offer is for the United States to enforce equal trade practices on our importers, thereby protecting American jobs and restoring the American middle class.
on October 4, 2012
This is the first book I have read by these Pulitzer Prize winning reporters. The authors detail a 40 year history of what they describe as an orchestrated dismantling of the middle class in America. The authors imply that this is being intentionally done by the superrich who for their own selfish motives care little for the welfare of the average income American or the average American middle class family. The superrich have been able to do this by basically buying off members of congress to create tax laws that favor the superrich at the expense of the overburdened middle class.
This book reads almost like an outrageous conspiracy theory novel . Unfortunately the arguments they use are well supported by readily available public records which the average citizen wouldn't bother to check.
To add insult to injury, the impact of multinational corporations with the ability to outsource labor to the cheapest bidder has apparently caused the pinch on the middle class to accelerate. The authors clearly argue that free trade and fair trade are entirely different. Without safeguards which must be monitored by our federal government, the desirability of having free trade becomes laughable. Every free trade agreement to date has resulted in a significant increase in our trade deficit. This is despite all the assurances by politicians that free trade is inherently good for thr American economy.
I highly recommend that anyone interested in the complexities of why we are in such a difficult economic position as a nation, read this book. If nothing else it will give the reader an interesting perspective on the upcoming national elections.
on August 8, 2012
Don Bartlett and Jim Steele have objectively reviewed how policy decisions, greed and avarice have crippled our domestic economy. A great read & a disturbing read!
on September 6, 2012
I always suspected that the rubbish we were being fed by large corporations and our elected officials, particularly the avid free marketeers, was a lie and that the working and middle classes were getting screwed. Just believe in free markets and everyone will benefit. Sure. This book exposes these lies in clear and vivid stories and statistics. Ever wonder what the harm of the enormous trade deficits we run with almost all of our trading partners is? Well, read this book and you'll have an idea why this has led to huge job leaks to other countries. And, most depressing of all, is that both parties, Republicans and Democrats, have led the cheering for "free trade" that really isn't and that which has and is continuing to decimate the middle class. The rich and large corporations who benefit tremendously by moving manufacturing to offshore facilities and then ship back to the US are completely indifferent to the damage caused to working and middle class Americans. Retrain for a job in the "new" economy? Don't bother - the moneyed class and our politicians will find a way to offshore your new skill. The solution? We need to get the money out of politics by going to publicly financed elections. The huge donations made to candidates for office and the army of lobbyists that have unfettered access to Congress has corrupted our government to an extent that there is no way to fix the problem - until the money is removed as the way our candidates for office get there. And, our trade agreements need to be rewritten to take into account the environmental and workplace safety regulations US companies must adhere to that manufacturers in China and other third world countries do not. And the huge wage differences between foreign and US manufacturers also needs to be factored in. These uneven playing fields should be adjusted for these inequities in the form of tariffs placed on artificially cheap products being imported in to the US. There is a way to revive the middle class but no one is having this discussion in either political party. Read this book - it will raise your blood pressure and perhaps lower your spirits but you need to know the truth. There is no way to begin to fix the problem until ordinary Americans rise up and demand that we take our country back.