The headline looks like it is ready to go all Marxist on the readers: “Reinventing the Dwindling Middle Class May Take A Revolution.” But the content of the radio news report didn’t match it. It was just sad story about a journalist returning to her hometown of Lincoln, Illinois and noticing the changes.
It turns out that what’s happening in Lincoln is happening in so many towns and communities across the country: As we recover from the Great Recession, jobs are coming back. But they are not middle-wage jobs — they are either high-wage jobs or low-wage jobs. The middle class is in serious decline. And that has all kinds of repercussions.
I started with Troy Brown, who went to grade school with my brother and is now a probation officer. He summed it up pretty well.
“The drug use has skyrocketed. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed. And just the general attitude — just no hope,” he said. “I don’t know really when it changed, but it seemed to be overnight.”
Brown has seen that change up close. While the crime rate in Lincoln is steady, it’s drug-related offenses that are going up. And the drug of choice these days?
So much heroin, Brown says, there’s an overdose every week. And that’s in a town of just 14,000 people. A handful of people have even died.
Nothing in this horrible story is explained. Let’s start with the heroin. It has gotten cheap—cheaper than beer. The media reports this without ever seeming to remember media reports on how banks have been caught aiding drug traffickers. We forget that the Taliban had all but eliminated opium production in Afghanistan until we invaded (some try to spin this as market manipulation, but I find that hard to believe). And no journalist has shown any curiosity about how we have protected opium production since we have occupied the area.
If American foreign policy can be vindicated of the charge of making heroin cheaper than it would be otherwise, I’m open to the explanation. But the issue ought to be addressed rather than ignored.
The main feature of the story, however, was economic decline. Like most mainstream media reports, the journalist assumes a narrative of prosperity, followed by recession, and then a recovery. In this case, the recovery is falling short. But what if economic decline is occurring over many years and the boom-bust cycle is disguising the process. In other words, the problem isn’t the recent disappointing recovery but rather economic problems that have gone unnoticed for decades.
One factor in that decline is population: “…like in so many towns across the Midwest, the population is shrinking and getting older.” If that is only about young people migrating to where there is work, then this isn’t a new phenomenon. But is it only that? Or is it also that Americans have been propagandized for years that we shouldn’t have babies? The mainstream media continually treats population growth as an economic disaster when the truth is that human proliferation is a key component of economic growth. The alternative is stagnation.
But, more importantly, the story contains no word about fiscal conditions and policies in Illinois or in the nation. Nothing about the “magic” of artificially depressed interest rates that discourage savings. Nothing about a policy of inflation that robs every single person in Lincoln every single day. Nothing about the debt, taxation, and regulation policies of Illinois.
“I grew up in a middle-class America where we pretty much knew life was an escalator,” he said. “You got on the bottom step, and if you behaved yourself, paid your dues, went to work, worked hard — you’d end up at the top of the escalator. And I think that escalator’s broken now. It’s a tougher scramble.”
Leaving aside that these older complainers are the same ones who accuse millennials of feeling “entitled,” nothing in this story explains how the elevator got broken. (A better question might be why the elevator ran so fast at one time—in an artificially stimulated way, perhaps.) It simply complains about the problems and suggests that somehow it must be fixed.
This, of course, rather than leading to a real solution, and a sustainable economy, allows listeners and readers to think they are addressing the problem by raising taxes on their most hated scapegoats and demanding more government services.
In other words, having degraded the economy by government intervention and centralize banking, the media is trying to empower the government to really kill it. I doubt the reporter is self-conscious of any of this. But that will be the result no matter what her intentions.