I read NYT’s Thomas Friedman pretty regularly, and even admit to having learned some things from him. But, for as encyclopedic as he can be on the details, there’s a real, somewhat Randian, undercurrent of oligarchy in everything he writes, the idea that American corporate structures are the real lab-control environment for the solution of a vast catalog of social, political and cultural issues. I think of it, admittedly, glibly, as ‘Jack Welch’s Disease’; that high, gravelly voice in your ear constantly shouting “Excellence! Competition! Leadership! Exceptionalism!” like a high-school wrestling coach. Or, as Iggy Pop intoned, “Eat Or Be Eaten! Beat Or Be Beaten! Strike Or Be Stricken!”
So I was surprised, but, then again, not, to have Friedman almost flatly state that the middle-class’ vaporization at the hands of the political, corporate, and financial oligarchs is, pretty much, the middle-classes’ own damned fault.
“It starts with the fact that globalization and the information technology revolution have gone to a whole new level. Thanks to cloud computing, robotics, 3G wireless connectivity, Skype, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, the iPad, and cheap Internet-enabled smartphones, the world has gone from connected to hyper-connected.
“This is the single most important trend in the world today. And it is a critical reason why, to get into the middle class now, you have to study harder, work smarter and adapt quicker than ever before. All this technology and globalization are eliminating more and more “routine” work — the sort of work that once sustained a lot of middle-class lifestyles.
“The merger of globalization and I.T. is driving huge productivity gains, especially in recessionary times, where employers are finding it easier, cheaper and more necessary than ever to replace labor with machines, computers, robots and talented foreign workers. It used to be that only cheap foreign manual labor was easily available; now cheap foreign genius is easily available. This explains why corporations are getting richer and middle-skilled workers poorer. Good jobs do exist, but they require more education or technical skills. Unemployment today still remains relatively low for people with college degrees. But to get one of those degrees and to leverage it for a good job requires everyone to raise their game. It’s hard.”
“So let’s review: We are increasingly taking easy credit, routine work and government jobs and entitlements away from the middle class — at a time when it takes more skill to get and hold a decent job, at a time when citizens have more access to media to organize, protest and challenge authority and at a time when this same merger of globalization and I.T. is creating huge wages for people with global skills (or for those who learn to game the system and get access to money, monopolies or government contracts by being close to those in power) — thus widening income gaps and fueling resentments even more.”
Understanding why the resentment is there, while calmly championing the economic and sociocultural forces that fostered it, is the kind of common moral disconnect that makes me sad, and pessimistic, about the prospects of living a decent life in this country anymore.