Culture, Economy & Business, Immigration, Politics

Is This the End of the Middle Class?

You can’t have a democracy—at least outside of a one-party “people’s” version—without a middle class. Much of the last half millennia is the story of the bumpy rise of an expanding middle class, which successfully replaced ancient aristocratic structures, creating a remarkably innovative economic culture and a vital democratic society. But over the last four decades, this class—which includes artisans, small businesspeople, and skilled workers—has been declining, largely as the result of economic forces but also because of political decisions to adopt policies inimical to those groups’ needs.

One sees this process unfolding in the wealth gap between the global rich and the middle class: it has grown to levels not seen since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In many countries, the income gap between the top 1 percent of the population and the remaining 99 percent is at an all-time high. This reality has been particularly marked in the United States. As one conservative economist put it succinctly in 2018, “The economic legacy of the last decade is excessive corporate consolidation, a mas­sive transfer of wealth to the top 1 percent from the middle class.” In the United States, an affluent class of roughly 1.35 million—the top 1 percent—is doing fine, but wealth gains have been especially concentrated among the top 0.1 percent, roughly one hundred and fifty thousand people. Since the mid-1980s, the share of national wealth held by those below the top 10 percent has fallen by twelve percentage points, the same proportion that the top 0.1 percent gained.

Unless there are significant changes, the modern-day equivalent of the medieval aristocracy seems likely to grow. A recent British parliamentary study projects that by 2030, the top 1 percent will expand their share to two-thirds of the world’s wealth, with the biggest gains overwhelmingly concentrated at the top 0.01 percent. Read more…

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