Scary Story

by Caleb Stegall on August 3, 2010 · 23 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Next time your kids ask you to tell them a scary story, show them this slide show.  Only I imagine this one will be keeping the parents awake at night.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar David August 3, 2010 at 9:21 am

That first table flies against the whole premise of the article. The top 1% hasn’t even seen their stock values double. But the “middle” categories have seen their stock ownership go up by nearly 10x in every case.

The middle class has cell phones, color TVs, RVs, weeks of paid vacation, bigger houses, air-conditioning, eats out twice a week, 2 cars that couldn’t be possibly compared to the cars built in the 1960s, home computers and access to the internet and our beloved FPR.

Now. “The Rich” are stanking rich. They continue to stank. And being working class poor stinks of a different kind. But all the other stats are just “you have to go camping in your RV because you can’t afford to go to Vegas for vacations” sorts of stats.

Trust me, I’m on the bottom end of holding myself in the middle class. I can’t even afford to have a mortgage that I could be upside-down in. And yet, I have wealth beyond the imagining of kings who are still only lightly buried in the ground.

avatar Rob August 3, 2010 at 9:39 am

David is quite correct: the very first slide factually contradicts the very premise of the article.

The vast majority of the succeeding slides are rather uninformative as to a rumored discussion of the middle class as well. I do see evidence that the “rich are getting richer,” which isn’t necessary an intrinsic problem (given that some slides demonstrate that everyone else is getting richer too), but I don’t see much about a numeric or qualitative decline in the so-called middle class that isn’t connected with very recent events.

Most significantly, I see many statistics that are more likely to reflect poor financial judgment than anything else. You say that most people aren’t saving for retirement? Too bad. Many people are living “paycheck to paycheck”? While it’s simple to blame such statistics on systemic problems that are “victimizing” everyone except the rich, it is far more likely that paycheck myopia evinces a dearth of prudence in most cases.

Some of that statistics hint at the real problem–which is not the comparative wealth of the wealthy: the globalization of the economy (welcomed by members of both parties) has revealed that standards of living are also subject to market forces (if they are so exposed).

In the end, the economy is a downer right now. We all know this. But I do not see signs of the apocalypse in these manipulated slides (remember, Caleb: there are lies, damned lies, and statistics). What I do see, like David, is that the next generation might *gasp* “suffer” a standard of living slightly lower than that of ten or fifteen years ago. Hardly a cause for alarm.

avatar Jeffrey Polet August 3, 2010 at 10:23 am

Count me as one of the naysayers. Were it not for the title of the presentation, there would be absolutely nothing you could conclude from it. I could go through this slide by slide and demonstrate how the research or conclusion is shoddy at best, an outright lie at worst. Take, for example, the “shocking” claim that a “staggering” 43% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved toward retirement. There are roughly 110 million Americans below the age of 28, and I wouldn’t expect them to have much saved. There are about 50 million who are retired, who aren’t saving for retirement. That’s about, um, 52% of the population. Or take the “fact” that government employees earn on average 60% more than private sector employees. Government employees are, well, middle-class. The supposed increase in child poverty and bankruptcies are due, in turn, to an official government reworking of the poverty metric and changes in bankruptcy laws. They are evidence only of how changing definitions or laws changes the social sphere. Americans have more housing debt, but they also have a lot more house. Additionally, research indicates the main reason why Americans take on more house than they can afford is because they want to get their kids into the best possible school districts. Finally, some of the sources provided are suspect, to say the least.

There are serious economic issues and challenges. Such tendentious presentations are a form a class warfare and not suitable for serious analysis.

avatar David August 3, 2010 at 10:26 am

Rob makes a doubly good point about the lack of sound economic judgment on the part of those who have less-but who’s lack of planning and fiscal self-discipline makes maintaining their lifestyle in the face of needful long-term planning a risky business.

I was just spending time this weekend with a friendly couple who ape in consumption many of their economic betters. They have a large home that they have never really moved in to and never really live in (last I checked, no family pictures on the walls, TV still sitting on a folding office table from staples and a “living room” with furniture stacked in the corner). This makes my wife ill.

These articles are about that same spirit of covet, they inspire disturbance of prayer on the basis of envy where I would prefer to develop some virtue. God is good, you have food in your stomach and a pantry full besides. No good comes of this sort of thing.

avatar sdf August 3, 2010 at 12:10 pm

The increase in middle class stock ownership you’re noting almost certainly represents the replacement of pensions by 401k’s, hardly a net gain in either wealth or security.

“Rob makes a doubly good point about the lack of sound economic judgment on the part of those who have less-but who’s lack of planning and fiscal self-discipline makes maintaining their lifestyle in the face of needful long-term planning a risky business.”

While that’s true it also misses the point. Despite the typical statistical classifications, the middle class is not an income category. It’s security and the potential to provide for a family without absolute dependence on another. Our culture, and especially our economic and political systems, produce (whether by intent or accident is debatable) the serfs you describe (whether their income is 20K or 200K) rather than freemen. That’s the problem at its base. The flood of money to the top of the pyramid is just a symptom, though pointing at the symptom is diagnosis rather than envy.

avatar David August 3, 2010 at 12:27 pm

SDF,

If we’re going to start to meddle with the operative definition of “middle class” (which indeed has many different meanings), that’s a different thread. The material linked to clearly defined “middle class” as an income category.

I argued and maintain there was little diagnosis and much envy both within and intended to be inspired by, that piece of “journalism”.

My preferred definition of “middle class” is that portion of the population between the “leisure class” (those who don’t have to work) and the “labor class” (those who have no meaningful choice about work). So to me “middle class” means people who have economic choices, but are still dependent on those choices for continued flourishing.

My definition is utterly off-topic on this piece, as is yours.

By my (off-topic) definition America has a spoiled and thus non-reflexive “middle class”. It is hard for me to accept (I confess) that I am a spoiled middle class American, because I do not own the land my home sits on. Yet, but whither historically, globally or spiritually I gauge my circumstance I am humbled by God’s gracious abundance in the life of myself and my family.

avatar David August 3, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Let the rich pray to their own God for their salvation.

avatar Rob August 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm

sdf:

That’s all fine and good, but as has already been pointed out, I think, this “article” (or series of pictures and cryptic incomplete sentences) is making a claim about the middle class as an income group. Your definition bears no relation to the definition implied by the “article.” In fact, the very statistics in the article bear no relation to the definition implied by the article because all the figures demonstrate is that some rich people in America have grown even richer. This tells us literally nothing about the middle class regardless of how it is defined.

Our economic system may indeed be producing “serfs” rather than “freemen,” but this article provides no empirical foundation for your claim.

And this, I believe, targets a more relevant premise upon which most of this entire website is predicated: please tell me when in history there has been an economic system of whose participants the majority were “freeman.” I would submit that it’s never happened, regardless of the idyllic reflections and impassioned sermons featured frequently on this blog. The maintenance of a viable American middle class has always been contingent upon slavish devotion both to work (unlike the “leisured” upper class) and to consumer consumption (which until recently was unlike the lower class). Prior to that, the American “freeholder” was a subsistence farmer in sway to the whims of weather, insects, crop production, etc. The farming life is free in a sense, but it is utterly un-free by current metrics. Let us be clear about what we mean by freedom and freemen. In terms of the economic choices I and the vast majority of Americans now are able to make, I am much “freer” than my freeholding grandfather who, due to his farm, weathered the Great Depression without suffering want or deprivation. We can debate, then, about which conception of freedom is “best” or, if you’d like, nobler or more sustainable or dignified.

I’ll repeat: the middle class today (or at least in 2008) is still better off materially than it ever has been. The only “danger” is that its standard of living might revert to the slightly-less-decadent levels of the 1980s.

avatar John Médaille August 3, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Y’all aren’t nearly scarred enough. So let me scare you. The last time that income differentials were at this level was 1929. A date some find significant. That’s using 2007 differentials. I think it’s worse today.

Yes, some of the charts at least are open to interpretation, but not only do I disagree with Rob’s presentation of the past, but with his description of the middle class. There is always an attempt to justify the difficulties of today by claiming it was worse for (fill in the blank, grandpa, the serf, the Bulgarians, _________ (your name here)) In fact, the middle class has never worked so hard for so little. The median wage of the white worker has been flat since 1973, and the family wage has stagnated for 10 years. The middle class has been able to maintain its position by first putting more family members to work, and second by excessive borrowing. Now there is not the work and credit has dried up.

Return to the 1980′s, Rob? Sounds good to me. we had some manufacturing jobs then, and were not dependent on borrowing a billion a day from the Chinese.

avatar Jeffrey Polet August 3, 2010 at 9:40 pm

C’mon John. “The middle class has never worked so hard for so little”? You can’t possibly believe that.

I repeat my earlier statement: there are very serious economic issues out there. Our understanding is not advanced by boilerplate like that.

avatar John Médaille August 3, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Somewhere, Jeffrey, among the Bureau of labor statistics collection, you can chart the rise in the number of hours given by each family to work. And somewhere in the census bureau, you can find the stagnation of the family wage. More work for the same pay, or less, would be my definition of working harder for less. So, c’mon, Jeffrey, it is an empirical question, and not one that sensible people argue about. They simply do their homework.

avatar Rob August 3, 2010 at 10:25 pm

John, here’s the thing: the “middle class” of circa 1950′s (?) until, say, the mid-1990′s that we have recently become so fond of recollecting in our bloggish ballads of the golden ages of yore is/was an historical anomaly, an economic blip, an unsustainable bubble that, like the housing bubble, is at some point destined to crash (though probably not so dramatically) or at least fade from economic dominance.

You counsel me to be scared. I am not fearful, but I am realistic. Here are some things of which I am fairly confident regarding my future:

-I will not be able to retire nearly as “early” as my grandparents, much less my parents, if I am able to retire functionally at all before becoming a literally useless ward of the state/my family/the nursing homes.

-I, with all my education and work, will only be able vainly to dream of a time when workers (many of them uneducated and unskilled) could support an entire family by working a mere forty hours per week in a simple but dignified factory job. I already average far more hours per week than that, and my standard of living will likely not ascend beyond what those union workers could proudly claim.

-With these many hours of work, I may or may not be able to afford the home, two cars, etc., etc., that constitute the “American dream.” I will pay more taxes for fewer services. I will be spending my life paying off the mortgage of the baby boomers (the most selfish generation in the planet’s history). I may not even be able to afford the food I am able to afford now, though if I’m lucky I’ll be able to afford a plot of land upon which I can grow it.

-Whatever I am able to save for retirement will probably not be enough to support my family due to the inflationary policies of my government.

I could continue. I know what’s happening, and what could very likely happen in the future. I am not blissfully naive. What I am is skeptical of the sort of vague, amorphous, class-conscious rhetoric proffered by the piss-poor excuse for journalism linked above. OH MY GOD! SOME OF THESE STATISTICS REPLICATE CONDITIONS IN 1929? Color me ambivalent.

What can we do about it? Not much. The fabled American middle class had (and, really, continues to have) its glorious run when America was the only nation producing stuff and had the only population with the resources to buy stuff. No longer, particularly in light of America’s comparatively recent exposure to the “globalized market,” a condition welcomed with alacrity by progressives and conservatives alike. Part of me–and I should suspect part of you–finds this to be acceptable. The American dream is not, or at least should not be, a mere economic aspiration to the middle class. In any case, stifle your tears for a moment and define for me what you believe constitutes the so-called “middle class” and how I am supposed to weep for it. The vast majority of middle class folks that I know boast an (owned) house in the suburbs, at least two late model cars, a flat-screen television, two kids in college or on the way towards that unsustainable and unnecessary educational paradigm, an annual vacation, cellular phones, and extra cash to eat in a restaurant from time to time. To any other class (including the middle class of a mere forty years previous) in any other epoch in history, they would obviously be assigned to the ranks of the wealthy and the oligarchical. These things are relative. Should I be relatively concerned?

By the way, I must note that I do not myself define “middle class” in terms of salary, etc. I don’t know how you define it, but, like other commenters here, my definition does not remotely correspond with the definition implied in the “article.” Perhaps that explains some portion of my apathy towards the subject.

Maybe I should merely simplify my argument: the decontextualized statistics cited above are of dubious repute and lead to uncertain conclusions. If this blog seeks to make a serious point about the economic future of this country–and I believe there are very serious and disconcerting points to be made–credibility will only be garnered otherwise.

avatar Jeffrey Polet August 3, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Indeed they do. And they’d look at BLS stats and see, for example, that the average worker spends 7.5 hours a day working on work days, and spends 5.8 hours of those days on leisure activities (in 1880 it was less than 2 hours a day). The data indicate that the average numbers of hours per worker have consistently declined over time. Now it may be that households are working more, but they are also getting more and spending more. While it is true that wages have flattened, other benefits have not. Then too, there are other factors to calculate into the data: unemployment and immigration. The latter clearly depresses the overall data pool, even though the immigrants are almost certainly better off economically. As for compensation, there has been about a 8% increase since 2001 in constant dollars if one looks at total compensation. Again, the numbers look different still if you consider how immigration impacts them.

“Never” is the word I object to. The middle class in the 1830′s clearly worked more for less.

avatar Rob August 3, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I’ll second Jeffery Polet for making my point much more succinctly than I did.

I’ll also point out that the definition of “middle class” I employed in my early comment is the definition (which I believe to be incorrect and imprecise) implied in the linked slideshow.

avatar John Médaille August 4, 2010 at 12:01 am

Ah, yes. Compared to the worst days of capitalist power, the 1880′s, the industrial worker, where you can find any, has it better. He has it better because of long struggles and bloody battles, but better, yes. And this is offered as the excuse for making him worse: “Well, it’s still not as bad as 1880!”

And no, the benefits are not better, they just cost more. That’s not that same thing. My father had no great position, but he had a Blue Cross card, and Blue Cross in those days was not a for-profit corporation, but a cooperative. With that card, he never had to worry about health care for his nine children, even though one child had polio. But many a man today, with far more expensive “insurance” worries a lot about what will happen financially if one of his far fewer children should come down with a serious disease.

Between the war and the 1970′s, we had reached a fine balance of power between corporations, the gov’t, and the unions, a balance that worked out well for the country. But by the end of the 70′s, things were changing, and from the 80′s onward, the balance of power began to shift, so that today we can justify the worst nonsense by saying, “Well, it’s not the 1880′s, is it?” If you pick a low enough standard, Jeffrey, you can justify anything. But the same people who were in power then are in power now.

And no, Rob, I am not a supporter of globalization. Not only is it poor social policy, it is bad economics. Indeed, it really isn’t trade at all, if one would merely consult a dictionary about what “trade” means.

avatar David August 4, 2010 at 1:04 am

Perhaps we work more hours, but I’m not convinced they are harder hours. My father made more than me, but he worked sales (big money or no money each month) and 16 hour days. I’m home for dinner every night and have almost as much vacation and sick time as the French. :)

How in the world do you think there will be some sort of bourgeoisie uprising as long as Monday night football, internet porn and after school programs are all still available?

People are still spending money on premium beer for Christ’s sake!

Yes, some individual folks (countable in the millions) have had their life-plans ruined or severely delayed, but their *lives* themselves are not ruined. Had a friend out of work for 30 months come up and tell me that it was tough, but not like when he remembers us losing our boy to cancer. You want a good job, I want my son alive.

You see in the 1930′s kids still died of all the things we’ve wiped out. Life was much harder in fact, that is, the facts of life were much harder. We’re wimps, spoiled fat-brats of the world. Watching my dad decay from Parkinson’s is harder than delaying my retirement 5 years.

Talk to my brother-in-law who was in Somalia in the Navy when that situation went bad. We can talk about what hardship is.

I sense a distinct loss of proportion.

avatar Robert August 4, 2010 at 5:43 am

The most soul destroying aspect of the modern economy, for me at least, isn’t necessarily the fact that the American standard of living might decline somewhat in the coming years. In large part I think this outcome is unavoidable, and perhaps in some ways even desirable. Rather, what I find troubling is the type of work the modern economy forces people to do in order to make a living—especially the working poor and lower middle class.

My father is a prime example of what I’m talking about. He graduated from high school in the late sixties and started to work as a welder. The outfit he worked for built grain silos, power plant cooling towers, and pretty much anything that was high and dangerous. Later I think my mother convinced him that such a job wasn’t exactly the best thing for someone who had a wife and two small children at home. He subsequently went back to school and became a millwright. Fast forward twenty years, and now, with the last vestiges of the American furniture industry off-shored to Asia, there isn’t much call for sawmills or millwrights.

Now, my father, who never expected or wanted to get rich, but merely wanted to make a living doing something that at least provided some utility to the world, faces two equally undesirable choices. First, he and my mother can pick up and move to another area of the country where his hopes of finding work might be marginally better. Of course this is exactly the medicine that most economists, especially those of neo-liberal and Austrian persuasion, prescribe. Let not trivial matters such as the fact they have spent their entire lives in the place where they currently live, or the fact that they would be abandoning their families, or that perhaps they just don’t wish to move, get in the way of economic man’s quest for greener pastures.

His second choice is to go to work for a company whose name I will not mention for fear of being hit with a S.L.A.P.P. suit—so much for free speech. I will say that said company is in the business of blowing the tops of what might be the oldest mountains in the world to get at the coal that God, and I swear this is the logic now being bandied about by the company and its public relations goons, accidentally put underneath of them.

Needless to say, he, like many others, chose the second option. He doesn’t want to do it; I can tell that it is destroying him. It has also strained our relationship. Even though he can’t stand what the coal companies are doing, he sees no other choice but to defend them. From his perspective he has no other job options. I, on the other hand, were it not for fear of spending a good portion of my life in prison, would be taking part in the campaigns of civil disobedience currently being waged against the coal companies.

avatar Rob August 4, 2010 at 9:08 am

John,

Where did I ask you to support globalization? I don’t consider myself a fan either (it is, as you say, bad social and economic policy). Perhaps it was an ambiguity in my phrasing.

In any case, it would seem to me that you’re a bit guilty of idealization. The postwar years in America until the 1970s were certainly not host to the sort of “front porch society” advocated on this site. These were the decades of the Bomb, the Cold War, the securitarian state, birth control, commodification and industrialization, the military-industrial complex, the sexual revolution, the divorce culture, pornography, the automobile, the death of agriculture, Vietnam, American imperialism, consumerism and–well, I could continue my litany of social evils ad infinitum. These were the decades that planted the seeds of the culture we now justly lament.

As it is, I too lament what we have become in comparison with what we were. I too, at times, long for the peculiar freedom of the yeoman farmer. I too wish I could repose easily into the sedate, secure “middle class” life of the previous two generations. I won’t even begin to demystify and demythologize the agrarian life here, but pardon me if I’m still not willing to shed a tear for the “beleaguered” American middle class. While I’m willing to grant that “times may be tough” in relation to the previous decade, like David, I’m simply unable to lament a society the majority of whose members are, in comparison with any other historical era, fabulously wealthy (in terms of material possessions–which is, of course, not an ideal metric).

To repeat David yet again, methinks that in latter-day America we are laboring under a deluded notion of “hardship.”

avatar Stephen August 4, 2010 at 9:43 am

Since when did we have a God-given right to a bourgeois existence?

avatar D.W. Sabin August 4, 2010 at 9:56 am

Ole Ed coughed up a gem about this late stage dementia we like to call America. He said something like
“American’s may be the most pampered serfs in history but we’re still serfs all the same.”

Most the world should have our problems but it aint going to happen that way because we’re just going to assume most the problems of the world ourselves. We’ll invent some new ones too though because after all, we’re Americans and we invent new stuff all the time.

avatar bw August 5, 2010 at 4:16 pm

This discussion is missing the point. The problem is not so much that (or whether) living standards for the middle class have declined. The problem is that those with what Thomas Aquinas called superfluous wealth (superflua) have dramatically increased it while those in either absolute or relative necessity (I’m using Thomistic terms again here) have seen their wealth stagnate or decline. That is manifestly unjust and also dangerous in a free society. I also disagree that any rational person in any flourishing previous society would view a married couple that owns the following as wealthy or an oligarch: (1) a heavily mortgaged home, the maintenance of which requires staying in the good graces of an employer, by which they shelter a family in hopefully a safe neighborhood near decent schools, (2) the means (usually aquired through debt) of getting both father and mother to and from that employer’s offices, (3) the means (usually aquired through debt) of providing to their children the education that they will need in order to provide for their own families, (4) the communication devices that are generally required by their employer or clients, (5) two weeks of the year where they are allowed leisure with their family without fear of their employer terminating them for taking it, and (6) a few meals out with family, which are largely necessary because they spend so much time working that they can’t prepare adequate meals at home. Such a person is not in absolute necessity, i.e. their survival is not threatened, and they are able to meet basic parental obligations to shelter and educate and safely raise their children (more or less), but they certainly cannot discharge the debts they incurred to “secure” those things without losing the things themselves (which they might be forced to do at any moment if their employers terminate their at-will employment contracts). Maybe that’s not poor in the way we have come to think of it, but it’s not wealthy and oligarchical. As for a flat screen TV, the ability to buy and otherwise access a bunch of cheap, immediately depreciating (indeed, designed for obsolescence), and banal technological amusements does not make one wealthy or an oligarch. If anything, people inhabiting a saner past age would probably see in a flat screen TV and those other relatively cheap consumer goods (that for some reason people today see as a sign of wealth despite their not making up a meaningful portion of almost anyone’s budget) an ingenious means of distracting serfs who believe that they are free and wealthy from the fact that their economic life consists of convincing a real wealthy oligarch (or his underling) to purchase their labor and/or time and/or creativity for another day at a price that will enable them to service the loans they were given by another real wealthy oligarch for the purpose of purchasing most of the items described above (all of which the second wealthy oligarch could efficiently take from them by power of law if they fail to service those loans because the first wealthy oligarch determines one day that he no longer desires to purchase the serf’s labor). Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have that by far than what an industrial era factory worker or the truly destitute suffered and suffer. But the standard is not poverty that cries to heaven for justice, and avoiding that poverty does not make one wealthy. The standard is parents who have the means to securely provide material sustenance, education, and safety to their children without selling the mechanisms by which those things are secured and without taking on debt that they can’t discharge. A society that is characterized by its allocation of an ever greater proportion of its wealth to those who don’t need it rather than to those who do is an unjust one and unfit for free men.

avatar Rob August 5, 2010 at 4:38 pm

bw, I agree with the substance if not the tone of your comment (though I’m not sure what is to be done about it: it’s one thing to claim that our society is “unjust and unfit for free men”; another thing entirely to render it just).

But I am curious: other than the brief blip of three (ish) decades following World War II–the epoch of the thriving American middle class, supposedly–can you point to any period in history in which a majority of persons were not in roughly the conditions you describe–i.e., working much and devoting the dominant proportion of the fruits and wages therefrom to basic necessities?

And what do you mean by “free men” (something I also asked John Medaille, who has yet to respond)? The sort of freedom we all seem to be implying in our comments had a name for Tocqueville (and Aristotle and Plato for that matter): aristocratic freedom, a freedom from labor and necessity that, by definition, can only be had by a few. If such a definition is accurate–and I think it must be–composing lengthy lamentations about the inability of the American citizenry to ascend above the financial pangs of necessity rings a bit hollow, though it certainly nourishes our populist rage in a cathartic sort of fashion.

avatar bw August 5, 2010 at 9:03 pm

I rarely comment on blogs and have yet to master the requisite tone. I actually don’t feel anything like populist rage and have little sympathy for it. Sorry about that.

I may not have adequately communicated what I intended to convey. I didn’t intend to give the impression that I was mostly lamenting a “majority of persons … working much and devoting the dominant proportion of the fruits and wages therefrom to basic necessities.” I do lament that (my tenative conclusion, based on a somewhat limited recourse to data and arguments about working hours and the correspondence between working days and the liturgical calendar in pre-industrial societies, is that in almost any pre-industrial Western society a majority of persons enjoyed significantly more leisure than we do now, although that is beside the point (or at least beside my point) and may not mean things were “better”). My point is not so much that today is notably “bad” for the middle class or that an average family today is worse off materially than one from some other historical era. Rather, my point is that a society in which, as a general matter, those with more wealth than they need to satisfy their obligations and reasonably maintain themselves, their families, and their businessess are accumulating additional wealth while, as a general matter, those without wealth sufficient for that purpose are seeing their wealth decline (especially during periods of economic growth to which that whole society more or less contributed) is an unjust one. In such a society, those with superfluous wealth are unjustly depriving those without it of what is their due. Those being deprived of what is their due should certainly remain grateful for what they have, whether relative to others or absolutely. They certainly should not indulge in class envy or similar vices. But that does not mean that they should fail to acknowledge and, if possible and prudent, reasonably oppose the injustice being done to them and their dependents. They should do so, even if others in other places and times are worse off materially or less comfortable than they are now. The already wealthy are in a real sense accumulating property that is owed to the children and other dependents of the non-wealthy. The non-wealthy should not accept that merely because, if they are among the lucky ones who are not suffering in dire poverty, they can provisionally provide for their families by means of loans and at will employment from the wealthy or because they have access to technologies previously unavailable to the non-wealthy (or, in some cases, to anybody).

My point about labor, then, is not so much that excessive work and insufficient leisure is bad or unusual (that is a different question), but merely that someone who cannot provide for his family unless he sells that labor, on an at-will basis, to the wealthy in exchange for the funds necessary to service loans from the wealthy is not himself wealthy and the fact that he can provisionally provide for his family with debt and at-will employment (usually of both spouses) should not lead him to accept that, as a general matter, an ever great proportion of the wealth generated by his society is being accumulated by those who don’t need it to meet real obligations rather than by those who do.

As to what is to be done about it, I think a cocktail of changes to tax law, corporations law, real property law, employment law, and estate law might help, although people much smarter than me would have to work to ensure that the remedy didn’t prove worse than the disease and I see little hope of any such thing being passed into law anytime soon. I don’t have a concrete answer there, unfortunately.

As to what I mean by “free men”, honestly, that was something of a rhetorical flourish, and not a very good one at that. I am sure it is overstated in our society. That said, I mean a man whose ability and rights to provide and reasonably expect to provide for his family’s requirements is sufficiently independent from the state’s or another man’s good graces that he can assert real and meaningful limits on the authority of the state and any other man over his life. So, a free man on this (again, probably overheated) reading might very well be a man who labors hard for his necessities, so long as he can reasonably expect that his labor will enable him to meet those necessities without necessary recourse to the state or any given person.

Thanks for your comments, and I apologize for being so longwinded.

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