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America's Middle Class
February 5, 2008 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Livin' Large - To hear the Lou Dobbses and Bill O'Reillys of the world--not to mention politicians ranging from Ron Paul to Hillary Clinton--the middle class of America (however you define that term) has never had it so tough. Between credit squeezes, out-of-control immigration, rising costs of education and health care and everything else, it's all darkness out there for those of us who are neither millionaires nor welfare cases, right? (A video presented by Drew Carey and reason.tv)
posted by blue_beetle (120 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
see also: On EconTalk, Easterbrook argues that life is better for the average American in almost every dimension. The paradox is that despite those gains, we don't seem much happier.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2008


But cheese is $26 a pound.
posted by phirleh at 1:15 PM on February 5, 2008


I'm so glad Drew Carey and one guy who wrote a book know so much more than most people.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:16 PM on February 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Please see this thread. Also see the Dictionary for the word "debt."
posted by tkchrist at 1:16 PM on February 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


Ah, the shut up and enjoy your toys argument. Always a fun one.

"But 200 years ago people didn't even have flush toilets. What a bountiful age we live in!"
posted by euphorb at 1:16 PM on February 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


dang it phirleh. You beat me!
posted by tkchrist at 1:17 PM on February 5, 2008


So am I rich or just a consumer whore?
posted by P.o.B. at 1:17 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, the shut up and enjoy your toys argument. Always a fun one.

Depends what your arguing about. But it is the undisputed winner in THIS particular argument.
posted by tkchrist at 1:18 PM on February 5, 2008


Did he ask any of them if their purchases were financed via HELOC'ing their (possibly now underwater) mortgages?
posted by PenDevil at 1:19 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


That was interesting. I love how LOU DOBBS tells his middle class viewers their threat is Mexican roofers not Republican type millionaires .. or maybe themselves! ... go Lou!

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=lou+dobbs
posted by celerystick at 1:23 PM on February 5, 2008


P.o.B.: You aren't rich.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:24 PM on February 5, 2008


Drew seems to have overlooked the cop with the $50K boat and the $50K Hummer probably and the other guys bought those things on credit and if he loses his job the banks will take all their toys away.
posted by birdherder at 1:25 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


That was the stupidest thing I've seen since my kids made me watch some game show hosted by Drew Carey. It's wrong in every single way. How'd the pin heads afford their Hummers and tacky ski boats? Using the (now nonexistent) equity in their highly leveraged McMansions. Duh. It's called a newspaper Mr. Carey, you may want to pick one up.

My favourite bit was the flying example. Do you know it's cheaper to fly cross country in 2008 than it was five years after the end of WW1! Wow!

That video makes Bill O'Reilly look smart.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:25 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Back in 1930, we never had credit card debt. Now look at it today! things going to hell in a handbasket whatever that is.
posted by Postroad at 1:30 PM on February 5, 2008


That video makes Bill O'Reilly look smart.

The point is that the anxiety of the middle class is entirely self produced in terms of "feeling squeezed." So in terms of that fact this video is correct. The middle class are a bunch of fucking spoiled cry babies with nobody to blame but them selves. Though they should have spent a bit more brow beating time on the debt issue which SHOULD have been the central point, true.

The funny thing is "the fat cats" leverage real assets to acquire more assets. Not just burn through or shuffle around piles of worthless paper like the middle and upper middle class do. However this dodge has been created and sold to the middle class, just has it has to our government, that we trade secured assets for paper and the short term we get to do all sorts of fun shit - like buy Skidoos and go to war in Iraq. Good thing this same class didn't sell out Social Security to the same market forces, huh? Jesus. Imagine THAT.

And that fact brings us to: The questions Dobbs and O'Reilly ask are going in the wrong direction. It is their OWN fucking party, the former party of Fiscal Responsibility, that has sold them out.
posted by tkchrist at 1:35 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


i'm just curious. does anyone else in here not have any consumer debt?

i have student loans, but no other debt. am i really in that much of a minority?
posted by CitizenD at 1:42 PM on February 5, 2008


The middle class are a bunch of fucking spoiled cry babies with nobody to blame but them selves.

You tell 'em, Thurston.
posted by The World Famous at 1:43 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah but the cost of a Wyclif Bible has skyrocketed in the last 600 years.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:46 PM on February 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


I have no consumer debt. I have a nice house, of which the bank owns about 50% of today's value. I have an old tv, computer, etc. and spend most of my free money on stuff that disappears, like travel and concerts.
posted by cell divide at 1:48 PM on February 5, 2008


does anyone else in here not have any consumer debt?

Just the ones that don't have someone else footing the bill.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:51 PM on February 5, 2008


[more self-education needed: i thought "consumer debt" included mortages...]
posted by CitizenD at 1:52 PM on February 5, 2008


Problem is that the middle class is trying to live an upper middle class lifestyle on a middle class income.

That's what happens when the public depends on TV to educate their children rather than fund and SUPPORT public education. Those TV educated children grow into adults who think it is smart to refinance a home whose value was grossly overestimated to begin with.
posted by notreally at 1:52 PM on February 5, 2008


Normally, I like Reason.

But today, I do not. This video is anecdotal FAIL. Inflation, employment numbers, purchasing power... it's all gotten WORSE, not better since a generation ago.

Anyone in here tried to raise 2.5 kids on a single income lately? Yeah, me neither.
posted by butterstick at 1:54 PM on February 5, 2008


me: does anyone else in here not have any consumer debt?

pollomacho: Just the ones that don't have someone else footing the bill.

i don't get what you mean. i don't have (non-student-loan) debt, and i'm single, childfree and with no one else "footing the bill."

and i'm nearly 40, and a grad student working with meager income.
posted by CitizenD at 1:54 PM on February 5, 2008


I have no consumer debt. I have a nice house, of which the bank owns about 50% of today's value.

[more self-education needed: i thought "consumer debt" included mortages...]

I was under the same impression CitizenD. If not then I must be one of them there fat cats.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:54 PM on February 5, 2008


I think tkchrist actually understood the video. The video was not about how the middle class is in phenomenal financial shape. The discussion was put in terms of this middle class squeeze argument. This is really a semantic argument where people get to define terms as they see fit. So the point that these guys were making is not answered by the debt point (which is an obvious one that answers a different question). In fact, the expert made the point himself at the 6:00 minute mark where he states that if an individual has a reasonable standard of living, it is actually easy for the middle class. He makes the point himself: its not the cost of living that is the problem, its that people insist on having so much more. So to respond to the argument made in this video by talking about debt and the credit crunch is to miss the point of this video.

This argument is directed towards the rhetoric you frequently hear is that middle class can't make ends meet, implying that they work all day long and can't afford to put food on the table (wherein food apparently means steak for all and not ramen noodles). The funny part being the guy around the 5:50 mark who talks about being not being able to make ends meet and then shows him in his very nice kitchen with a nicely decorated house setting his table for a nice meal with his well-fed family (who probably all have cell phones).

The idea that the middle class is struggling to get by because of forces outside their control is what this video is addressing. The middle class can get by and they can afford to have luxuries. The problem is of course that the middle class often exceeds their resources on luxuries and end up in debt. But that is not the fault of anyone but them. It is not a fault of the market or governmental policy squeezing them.

So if you want to argue against the video, you have to do it on its terms. You can't make arguments against it based on something it is not saying.
posted by dios at 1:55 PM on February 5, 2008 [7 favorites]


Reason magazine insists that if you have financial trouble, it's your fault and your problem, dios comes along to defend the indefensible, news at eleven.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:58 PM on February 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


i don't have (non-student-loan) debt, and i'm single, childfree and with no one else "footing the bill."

Is you student loan not consumer debt? You consumed a product (education) produced by a corporation (your school) did you not? Why is it any different than a Ford or a House or a SkiDoo or braces for little Suzie. I'm not trying to imply anything by my previous statement, just that one has to be either independantly wealthy or well provided for not to have debt.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:58 PM on February 5, 2008


Reason magazine insists that if you have financial trouble, it's your fault and your problem, dios comes along to defend the indefensible, news at eleven.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:58 PM on February 5


You have anything useful to contribute to the discussion? If not, why don't you help eliminate the noise quotient and not post unless you want to add to the discussion substantively.
posted by dios at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2008


i'm just curious. does anyone else in here not have any consumer debt?

My wife and I have no consumer debt, after several years of living way below our means while paying off her medical bills, our two cars, and about 5-6 credit cards. Credit cards (IMHO) are better off thought of as a proxy for holding actual cash than as "real credit" for any length of time. Use 'em for the rewards, sure, but just make sure each and every purchase is backed with cash sitting in the bank.
posted by vanadium at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


So if you want to argue against the video, you have to do it on its terms. You can't make arguments against it based on something it is not saying.

I live in a house that was built in the 1920's. I take the bus to work. I've managed to pay off my student loans, though we continue to pay for my wife's masters. I live the 1950's lifestyle at best, not even 1970's, so that jackass on the video can shove his book up his Hummer if he thinks it is "easy" for a 2008 American to get by even on two incomes if they only choose to live a 1970's lifestyle. I don't have a boat. I don't have a big screen. My wife isn't blingged out. I don't have a Hummer. I have less time to spend with my family than my Grandfather did in 1950 because I have to work more hours, not to mention that my wife has to work too, something my Grandmother did not or that we had to get a whole lot more education to get half as far as they did back then. Apparently their premise failed to take into account that one could get a full meal at a restaurant for a nickel back then while I have to dump $200 a week to save money by cooking everything at home. Better off my ass.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:08 PM on February 5, 2008 [13 favorites]


If the middle class is getting squeezed, when was the really good times for the middle class? 1999? 1986? 1962?
posted by iviken at 2:09 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


The primary problem with the video is that it focuses exclusively on one interpretation of the current situation (living standards are better than they ever have been for everyone), at the expense of another interpretation (inequality is still extraordinarily high, and in many ways has increased during the past two decades). The important point is that both of these interpretations can be correct simultaneously. The fact that everyone has things pretty good does not make an inequitable division of resources any more or less just.

Inequality is a relative attribute, wheres standard of living is an absolute attribute. Divide a cake among 5 people. One gets 69%, three get 10% each, and one gets 1%. No matter how big the size of the cake, the one who gets 1% is still going to be comparatively "poor," and the three who get 10% can't help noticing that they get a whole lot less than the one who got 67%. Doesn't matter if the cake is so big that even that 1% is more than enough to make you sick - this is still an unequal division of the cake.

Personally, I happen to agree with the sentiment that Americans should feel very fortunate that they have such a high degree of wealth and security. But using this as a means to argue that we shouldn't be concerned about inequality sounds a lot like the guy with all the 69% of the cake saying the 10%-ers should shut up and be happy they have what they've got.
posted by googly at 2:09 PM on February 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


Reason magazine insists that if you have financial trouble, it's your fault and your problem, dios comes along to defend the indefensible, news at eleven.

I disagree with dios about a lot but he is right here.

The video says so itsself, the houses todays middle class live in are two and a half times as large as 50 years ago.

Now I know that there is an obessity epidemic but do families really need that much more house?

The point made is straight out of fight club. People are working to buy shit that they don't need. Hummers, boats, motorcycle collections.

Yes all that shite is purchased by getting into debt, but, and this is the crucial point, you don't have to buy it. You can be comfortable and even have some luxuries without getting upto your neck in debt.

The "squeeze" is simply people trying to live far beyond their means.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 2:09 PM on February 5, 2008


Is you student loan not consumer debt?

If you have to ask, it means you probably don't know what the term means.
posted by dersins at 2:11 PM on February 5, 2008


FWIW, I had to look it up, so I clearly don't know what it means either. I'm just sayin' is all...
posted by dersins at 2:12 PM on February 5, 2008


But using this as a means to argue that we shouldn't be concerned about inequality sounds a lot like the guy with all the 69% of the cake saying the 10%-ers should shut up and be happy they have what they've got.

That is exactly what this video is.

The point made is straight out of fight club. People are working to buy shit that they don't need. Hummers, boats, motorcycle collections.

Yes all that shite is purchased by getting into debt, but, and this is the crucial point, you don't have to buy it. You can be comfortable and even have some luxuries without getting upto your neck in debt.

The "squeeze" is simply people trying to live far beyond their means.


I would like some evidence that the middle class is actually doing this that isn't the say-so of individuals who would have us believe that the wealthy had nothing to do with the extension of predatory credit to those who couldn't afford it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:13 PM on February 5, 2008


Some people lucked out with jobs and wages. Those lucky people hang out at the lake and play with their toys.

I also saw very few kids hanging out there at the lake.

Just an observation.
posted by chillmost at 2:14 PM on February 5, 2008


I would like some evidence that the middle class is actually doing this that isn't the say-so of individuals who would have us believe that the wealthy had nothing to do with the extension of predatory credit to those who couldn't afford it.

That is an entirely different point.

Funnily enough the people running the financial institutions that are extending credit to any muppet willing to take it are rich.

No argument there.

But that doen't mean people actually have to take it, just say no.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 2:17 PM on February 5, 2008


"its not the cost of living that is the problem, it's that people insist on having so much more."

The problem with simple it's-not-this-but that statements is that they tend to be overly simplistic particularly if they address aspects of a system that consists of a myriad of complex feedback loops. Yes, of course you can improve your financial situation by reducing your spending on unnecessary consumption. But if everyone does it it'll sooner or later have a cascading effect beyond the immediate reduction in consumer debt.
Companies may find themselves selling less products. Jobs may be cut leading to additional reduction in consumption. Prices of goods may have to go up for companies to remain profitable. Who knows... ultimately it's way too complex to predict anything for sure other than that there's no simple cause&effect relationships. Maybe the underlying problem is that an economic system based on growth can ultimately not succeed in a limited environment. Something has to give eventually. Or the units of measurement of growth have to change as they do when inflation occurs.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:21 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


pollomacho: Is you student loan not consumer debt? You consumed a product (education) produced by a corporation (your school) did you not? Why is it any different than a Ford or a House or a SkiDoo or braces for little Suzie.

quite honestly, i don't know the answer to that question. my admittedly ill-informed understanding was that student loan, as it goes through "the government," was somehow "different" than loans taken from private banks. i guess it doesn't really matter, because.....


pollomacho: I'm not trying to imply anything by my previous statement, just that one has to be either independantly wealthy or well provided for not to have debt.

that's my point. i'm not independently wealthy OR well-provided-for. i used the inheritance i got when my mom died to pay off my undergrad student loans, and the miniscule amount left is roughly equivalent to what i would/might have saved had i been working these last years (instead of being a grad student and AI). so, i'm no "better off" for her having already died, i don't life off of that money, and it does not - to my mind - make me "well provided for."

i'll get another inheritance when my dad dies, and my current plan is to use that to pay/help pay the loans i'm now accruing in grad school.

but the fact still remains: there is no other debt. and there will not be. i simply don't buy things unless/until i have the cash on hand. i've thought about the strategy that vanadium describes above (making consumer purchases with credit cards to earn the rewards, but paying them off immediately) but i'm just not organized enough for that. plus, i have to believe that all these incentive programs are part of the larger philosophical problem that is credit (ie buying things you can't really afford), and i feel a little dirty "cashing in" on them.

so, the question remains: am i really all that alone, here? i'm NOT trying to claim some kind of superiority. it's just that the last 6 weeks or so have been incredibly eye-opening for me, in terms of coming to understand how pervasive the credit crisis is. so, i guess i'm curious about the anecdotal evidence i might see here, by asking other mefites whether they live credit-free.

's all.
posted by CitizenD at 2:25 PM on February 5, 2008


Reason magazine insists that if you have financial trouble, it's your fault and your problem

Actually, my wife and I refused to go to credit counseling and instead did it all ourselves for this very reason: we're the ones who drove up the credit without considering a downturn or other impacting events that could come up, and even though we had lost our jobs for a good while and she had a medical problem in the midst of it all, we still managed to dig out from underneath a $65,000 mountain of debt in just a few years. Sure, we had to live a VERY low-profile, low-income lifestyle foregoing a lot of pleasures in life, but in the end it was a pretty fucking great feeling to rely on nobody else to bail our asses out of it. We're pretty certain we wouldn't have learned nearly as much about how to work with money as a couple--or, more importantly, the lesson to be taken away from all this--if we had.

Quite frankly, we felt we deserved the situation we put ourselves in (even if it sucked so bad it never looked like we'd get out of it), just like we now feel like we earned the much better, more focused life we're enjoying now. And it we can't pay cash for it, we don't buy it. It doesn't mean we don't get nice toys (HDTV!) or use credit cards, but it does mean we don't carry a balance. Ever.
posted by vanadium at 2:25 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Look, a few people with toys! Obviously that's the problem! Stop buying toys!

People buy stuff, some more than others. Some don't save at all. Some spend more than they really can afford. That's nothing new. And it is easier to accumulate crap than it was a generation or two ago. Stuff got cheap, especially cheap disposable junk. Credit is easier to get. However, there's also a lot less security than there was before. It's much easier to lose your job. Medical issues can be crippling. Kids are expensive, especially if you are a two income family. While houses may be bigger than ever they are also shoddilly built and commutes are insane.
posted by aspo at 2:27 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


The "squeeze" is simply people trying to live far beyond their means.

What about those of us who are being squeezed and are not living beyond their means? We bought an old house in the less desirable part of town to save money. We aren't fat. We don't have a fancy car. We buy clothes from Target for christ's sake, and we're educated people with decent paying jobs. But, apparently we aren't actually being squeezed because our mortgage and student loans are low interest investment type debts and we aren't crushed under the burden of "consumer debt." Thank goodnesss for that! Does that mean I get to go on that vacation then or eat the fancy 90% fat free ground beef this week? Huzzah!
posted by Pollomacho at 2:27 PM on February 5, 2008


Anything that encourages people to NOT WATCH LOU DOBBS is ok with me.

And it's worth examining the oft-repeated 'middle class squeeze' idea. Is Drew Carey the be-all end-all of economic analysis? No.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:32 PM on February 5, 2008


The costs of health care and housing have increased much, much faster than wages or inflation over the past couple of generations. Fancy toys are not to blame for most people feeling financially squeezed.
posted by designbot at 2:33 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why don't they ask the people at the lake what their annual household income is?
posted by The World Famous at 2:35 PM on February 5, 2008


i can appreciate the tension that's developing here re: children. it's one thing that absolutely makes me crazy.

we don't have a "right" to have children. but far too many people in this country world act as if we do. so, they go ahead and have them, without really thinking about the long term, believing that the good great god of credit will save them. hell, credit's the american way. soon, it comes to the thought that we have a "right" to credit, as well -- that "you have to be independently wealthy or well taken care of not to have debt"

i'm about as far left as they come. but you know what? i would wholeheartedly support the creation of a "parents' license" -- where you have to prove that you have the ability and desire to make the long-term emotional and financial (among other) commitments of parenthood.

because, really....i genuinely wonder: how much of this very-real credit crisis would still exist if there weren't millions of americans trying to figure out how to support the children they chose to bring into this world?

i'm *really* not trying to bash on breeders here. i am definitely still working on how to communicate about this without sounding like a righteous childfree radicalist. it's not easy to talk about other peoples' children without, you know, really pissing them off.
posted by CitizenD at 2:40 PM on February 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


I honestly expected more from Reason. Are they actually surprised that politicians pander to the middle class in an election year?

The sauce, is weak, no?
posted by butterstick at 2:44 PM on February 5, 2008


> we don't have a "right" to have children.

Umm, yes, everybody does. When people can't afford to have kids, things are really fucked. But that point is a red herring, I know of nobody in the middle class who cannot afford to have kids.

* * *

I was kind of disappointed in that video. The "cost" comparisons were way off, and the clips from the lake, although they underscore our penchant for toys, hardly makes the case.

I do think there is a middle class anxiety, but I think it's more to do with the perceived fragility of their situation, coupled with the current actions of the US government (borrowing, warmaking) that make the economy more of a high-wire act.

The paranoid in me suggests that both US political parties are happy to let the media transmute this anxiety into the belief that their situation ain't so great, so that the candidates can pitch solutions to this "problem", which I guess is an easier sell than the harder issues of building a healthy and fiscally secure society.

Maybe I'm in a minority but I've felt for the last 10+ years that my wife and I ARE well off, all things considered. I'm prepared to give up more taxes, if they would go towards things that would benefit the nation as a whole: education, healthcare, infrastructure.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:50 PM on February 5, 2008


I go to Drew Carey for all my financial planning, Michael Crichton for my weather reports, and read Tom Clancy to keep up on what's going on with the military. Isn't the marketplace of ideas wonderful?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:52 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


we don't have a "right" to have children. but far too many people in this country world act as if we do.

i'm about as far left as they come.


Maybe my understanding of the political left is incomplete. I thought "reproductive rights" were important to the political left, at least in the U.S.
posted by The World Famous at 2:53 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


No consumer debt here. Some of that is because of luck (no serious illnesses during the periods when I was uninsured), some of that is because of a combination of luck and choice (took a scholarship to a good state school - even if student loans are not technically consumer debt, they certainly eat into your income and affect your likelihood of acquiring more debt), and some of that is because of choice (living within my means.)

Current situation - in my 30's, two person household, combined income in the highish five figures, no children. Finally have enough saved that I'm seriously considering investing some amount rather than sticking it all in a bank. In my 20's, however, I was often below the poverty line in terms of income, usually had minuscule savings, and a serious problem could have financially wiped me out. I was homeless for a while, but more for mental health reasons than financial ones.

While I am sure some people are in debt because they live beyond their means, I suspect that medical debt, the burden of student loans during typically low-income years, and the predatory lending tactics which have become very common in recent years are a much bigger part of the problem.
posted by kyrademon at 2:54 PM on February 5, 2008


Easterbrook argues that life is better for the average American in almost every dimension. The paradox is that despite those gains, we don't seem much happier.

He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet? Do we seek out things to covet? No. We begin by coveting what we see every day.

Same reason it's not a wise idea for shetlodes of poor immigrants to move to richer countries. It doesn't take 'em long to go from "Wow. I'm so glad I'm out of that shethole, this place is Paradise" to "Hey! Why am I doing all the shitty jobs and why do all dem white folk have more STUFF than me it's all because of the colour of my skin I think I'm gonna torch me some cars."

IMHO

posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:55 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


They should ask the boat and motorcycle toy owners what their level of debt is. I bet as reflected in this article, and in particular this PDF table, many people in the US are carrying huge amounts of debt.
posted by procrastination at 2:57 PM on February 5, 2008


dios is largely right, but the video is still greatly wrong, or simply intentionally misleading. I'm leaning towards the latter.

The video takes a Kaldor/Hicks approach (the distribution doesn't matter as long as the cake is bigger, even if most people end up getting less cake) and extends it to argue that everyone truly is better off. This is illogical, but it finds a clever sleight of hand to justify the "rising tide lifts all boats" (literally) theory it presents.

Instead of going to the factories and schools and other workplaces of the middle class, and finding out the financial states of people working in those jobs, including savings, dependents, and so on, it goes to the lake (and as anyone who's been on vacation can tell you, there are vacation spots that rich people go to, and others that not-so-rich people go to, and they rarely overlap) and asks people with conspicuously consumed toys what they do for a living. They offer us nothing, again, about debt, savings, dependents, and so on.

I remember, as a teen, my parents mentioning that they thought one of my friends families might be having economic trouble. I countered by saying that they had just bought a new truck, and so things couldn't be that bad. They then reasoned - quite wisely IMHO - that newly purchased items are a really, really shitty indicator of how someone is doing. Read: The Luckiest Man on Warner Place. People will often buy things they know deep down they can't afford just to have something nice to cling to.

Yes, the standard of living has improved, as it always does over time and technological advancement, making that argument even weaker, but the flip-side of that is that it raises the standard that people must live up to. It mentions the fact that the cost of air-travel has dropped precipitously since WWI, but elides the notion that the jet-set referred not so much to the fact that they could afford to fly, but to their decadent leisure spending. People then flew because they could and wanted to, and did so if they could afford to. Now that the price has dropped so much, as new technology tends to do over the course of almost a century, almost anyone can fly, but the difference is that the world now requires it. Any economic index from 1919 wouldn't have considered the cost of air-fare into the cost of living. Now it seems almost negligent not to.

Ditto for cell phones. The price dictated the amount of usage, which as it (the price) dropped made them more ubiquitous. We now live in a world where cell phones are needed to partake in society, but the video still treats them, like air-travel, as a luxury. This is the point where the video makes to massive lies-of-omission. The first is in citing the $50 cost of the cell phone while ignoring the sky-high rates for service, which are the actual monthly cost (significant for the middle class) and much more expensive than the phones themselves. This is akin to ignoring the issues of gas prices and car insurance premiums while lauding the fact that more people can afford to own cars than in 1919, a position which - wait, okay, yes - the video did that too. The second lie was in pricing the phone at $50. I bought that phone as a replacement for my broken one yesterday. It's still on it's initial charge-up on my desk today. $50 is the insurance deductable for that phone. The actual cost is $119 with a two-year contract, which again is where they make the real money.

The squeeze on the middle class is real, and is happening because the standard of living is raising and mandating itself, based on the essentials of the upper class, and forcing middle class Americans to pay for things they can't afford, but need in order to keep on affording them. Also, it's simply dishonest to see newscasts talking about new economic developments and then compare status to fifty and ninety years ago, as opposed to, say, ten.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:00 PM on February 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


The upside is that real political change usually happens, for good or for ill, when the middle class feels unhappy, whether or not they brought it upon themselves.
posted by klangklangston at 3:02 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow! Have not seen Bill O'Reilly in that fashion before...
posted by andretheus at 3:08 PM on February 5, 2008


There are at least a few of us out here with no debt; I'm one too. No loans of any kind, no balances on any credit cards, no debt on the house or car or computers, just no debt at all. It was a long road, ten years, to transform myself from a fiscal idiot loaded with debt and hounded by debt collectors, to a more responsible person with gobs of (unused) credit and a credit score of 786 (and hoping for 800+ by the end of 2009). We have no children, by choice, which really helps a lot; children are *expensive* (or so I hear from those who have some, heh). I learned my lesson from that ten-year fiscal recovery: I live within my means now, no exceptions unless it's a genuine life-or-death emergency. If our government would do the same, we'd all be a lot better off.
posted by jamstigator at 3:08 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, CitizenD, what you might want to do is get a bank debit-card issued by VISA or one of the other major credit card companies. If you choose "credit," it acts like a credit card on your credit rating and so forth, but acts like a debit card to you, so your debts are paid off immediately, without any organization on your part.

It's been a god-send for me, personally, and it's the only reason I hold no consumer debt myself (that and someone else footing the bill for grad school) because I have no common sense about such things personally.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:11 PM on February 5, 2008


Consumer debt does not include mortgage debt. At least in general terms.
posted by cell divide at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2008


we don't have a "right" to have children. but far too many people in this country world act as if we do.

i'm about as far left as they come.


Maybe my understanding of the political left is incomplete. I thought "reproductive rights" were important to the political left, at least in the U.S
.

i am for REPRODUCTIVE RESPONSIBILITY, not just REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS.

reproductive rights say that a woman/family should be free to bear or abort a child, as they see fit.

reproductive responsibility acknowledges one's ability to bear/abort a child, but places particular emphasis on the long-term consideration of effects and consequences of the decision to bear/rear a child.

"just because we can, doesn't mean we should," which is a typefying "progressive" idea, as applied to, say, environmental issues? "i can charter a 747 to fly me and one other friend to minsk, but that's very wasteful and isn't the best use of resources."

as applied to reproduction: "i CAN have a child, but i need to examine whether i REALLY WANT to have a child and whether i can RESPONSIBLY raise a child without detrimental affect to me, child or community."

big, big difference.
posted by CitizenD at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2008


CitizenD, just because I think people should have enough sense to not say stupid things doesn't mean I reject the idea of freedom of speech. The fact that you think that people should make responsible decisions about childrearing should not mean that you believe that there is no right to reproduce.
posted by The World Famous at 3:29 PM on February 5, 2008


Navelgazer, as common as they now are, air travel and cell phones are NOT necessities and should not be factored into cost of living as such. In suggesting that, you are really underscoring the argument that expectations have been raised.

I totally agree with you that the only valid comparisons to make when assessing the current state of the middle class would be over a shorter time span, like 10 or 20 years ago.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:30 PM on February 5, 2008


Navelgazer, as common as they now are, air travel and cell phones are NOT necessities and should not be factored into cost of living as such.

I agree with this, but in the United States, I think it is fair to say that someone who cannot afford air travel and a cell phone is not middle class.
posted by The World Famous at 3:32 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't get the desire to be debt free. You're better off putting money into retirement then paying off debts more quickly unless you have an absurdly high interest rate.
posted by delmoi at 3:34 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, CitizenD, what you might want to do is get a bank debit-card issued by VISA or one of the other major credit card companies. If you choose "credit," it acts like a credit card on your credit rating and so forth, but acts like a debit card to you, so your debts are paid off immediately, without any organization on your part.

Uh, no. It uses the credit card processing system, but it doesn't show up as a credit card on your credit report. If you want that, you need a subsidized credit card, which is a ripoff unless you have terrible credit.
posted by delmoi at 3:35 PM on February 5, 2008


The main middle class squeeze has been the two-income trap that results in each of us spending 30-60% of our double incomes on housing costs.

Every dollar we all gain in productivity or what have you will, at the end of the day, end up in inflated land valuation.

Unless you live in an undesirable area.

I do find the argument that the average standard of living is higher for the average joe these days interesting, however.

My "stuff" -- TV, DVD, stereo, PC, car -- is easily comparable if not equivalent to what only billionaires could buy 15-20 years ago.

But our consumer expenses are VASTLY dwarfed by medical, educational, and housing costs, and I suspect the FPP thesis is ignoring this.
posted by panamax at 3:37 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


What is the American middle class? Is it anyone whose job is slightly better than working 72-hour shifts in an asbestos mine for three cents an hour? That seems to be the definition being used by most Democratic politicians. Or is it the well-paid professionals - doctors, lawyers, managers, etc? If it's the former, why can't we call it the working class? If it's the latter, why does "helping the middle class" seem to be so urgent politically, to the degree that it seems to be the #1 economic priority for every current Presidential candidate? Surely there are bigger problems. It seems like America's Middle Class is anyone in the middle of Bubbles and George Soros.
posted by stammer at 3:42 PM on February 5, 2008


And reason and the cheap-labor small-government righties talking about our great standard of living while ignoring the soon-to-be THREE TRILLION national budget is . . . interesting.

THREE TRILLION / $100K is . . . 30 MILLION jobs directly or indirectly supported by Big Government statism.

Cut Federal spending in half and see how great our economic opportunity for the average joe would become.

Not to mention the $400B+ fiscal deficits we are running.
posted by panamax at 3:45 PM on February 5, 2008


stammer: middle class is working for a living, but comfortable and reasonably self-sufficient.

lower class is degrees of helplessness and economic insecurity.

Upper class is living off of capital and not labor per se and great economic security.

Upper middle class receive rentier wages come from scarcity and relative value per work unit -- Doctors, Lawyers, Technocrats, PHP programmers, etc.
posted by panamax at 3:49 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd kind of like examples or definitions of ideas like "degrees of helplessness" or "reasonable self-sufficiency". What does self-sufficiency mean to someone who works for a living, and how much of it is reasonable? How many degrees of helplessness?
posted by stammer at 3:58 PM on February 5, 2008


i'm just curious. does anyone else in here not have any consumer debt?

I have no debt of any sort at this point in my life (I'm 28 years old). I had some in my early 20s (medical expenses) and it nearly drove me to suicide, so I decided to do everything in my power to make sure that it never happened again. I sat down and made a list of things that I wanted, and then began crossing off the things that didn't provide me with a good value.

As far as I'm concerned, cars, home entertainment systems, and children are all luxury goods. For some people, they're necessities, but they aren't for me. It'll probably rankle some people here, but I don't think that college provides all that great a value for its cost. I've taken a number of classes at the local JC, and I've felt that I've gotten my money's worth, but nothing that I've seen from my friends who've gone on to universities has suggested to me that what they've received is financially in line with what they've paid. Medical care, food, and shelter are necessities for me, and my computer has added positive value in the form of income exceeding its cost. Having enough liquid assets on hand to help out my friends with occasional financial emergencies is also a necessity, because it strengthens my social network, and a strong community of supportive individuals is probably the best safety net that there is (it's certainly the only thing that saved my parents on more than one occasion during my childhood, and that left a strong impression on me).

I don't make a ton of money. I'm at just about the national average, and I've spent most of my life living below the poverty level in terms of income. Two months ago, I celebrated the not-at-all-impressive accomplishment of becoming a ten thousandaire with zero debt. It's not an impressive feat to many of you, I'm sure, but it meant a lot to me to know that I had set my mind to something and managed to accomplish it.

There are a lot of consumer milestones that I don't own, and probably never will. I don't have a car. I don't own a home. I don't own a television, or any of the accessories that complete the television "experience". I recognize that I don't earn enough money to support a child without having my partner bring in a second source of income, and I don't want to bother spending the money to have a child if that child is going to have a stronger connection to his or her daycare provider than to me and my partner. According to the advertisements that I see on a daily basis, I'm falling behind. Somehow, though, I feel like I'm doing all right.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:59 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


almost anyone can fly, but the difference is that the world now requires it

Really? The world requires you to fly?

The second lie was in pricing the phone at $50. I bought that phone as a replacement for my broken one yesterday. It's still on it's initial charge-up on my desk today. $50 is the insurance deductable for that phone. The actual cost is $119 with a two-year contract, which again is where they make the real money.

There are no phones available for free, or for $50 or less, with a two-year contract? Ones that, you know, just make calls?

You're making the video look better, I think.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:02 PM on February 5, 2008


There are no phones available for free, or for $50 or less, with a two-year contract?

Cheapest I found [for my mom] was $50 purchase + $120/yr "(pre)-pay as you go" from AT&T. Perfectly acceptable for a poor person, and an accurate picture of how most people have access to some accoutrements of wealth.

However, access to an MRI, root canal, dermatologist. . . here the poor person hasn't advanced much over the last 10-20 years.
posted by panamax at 4:08 PM on February 5, 2008


What does self-sufficiency mean to someone who works for a living, and how much of it is reasonable? How many degrees of helplessness?

I define this as ability to become and remain a productive member of society.

Intellectual development and socialization as a child, access to professional [re-]educational opportunities, access to necessary health care, access to local transportation, access to secure and livable housing are the basics. How well one has the Hierarchy of Needs covered, essentially.

Given that only 25% of this country has graduated from college, getting through that gives one a pretty good angle on securing sufficient wage-earning (or, for the super-adventurous, entrepreneurial) skills.
posted by panamax at 4:29 PM on February 5, 2008


I had some in my early 20s (medical expenses) and it nearly drove me to suicide

Why? I can't imagine ever being that upset over a monetary debt. Debt isn't failure...it's just debt.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:35 PM on February 5, 2008


I go to Drew Carey for all my financial planning, Michael Crichton for my weather reports, and read Tom Clancy to keep up on what's going on with the military. Isn't the marketplace of ideas wonderful?

and Candace Bushnell for sex therapy and Stephen King for pet care advice.
posted by jonmc at 4:42 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Googly has it right- standard of living is a relative measure. Sure the bottom has risen over the last century. It damn sure should have. A capitalist economy must grow or perish. But any number of studies have shown that the upper end of the American economic strata have grown much faster than the lower and middle. ( I'm too tired to look for cites, but they're easy enough to find).

Anybody who buys the "it's the toys" argument is not digging very deep. Sure, many people are living beyond their reasonable means, but that doesn't mean that stagnant wages, high insurance and medical costs, upwardly spiraling energy costs, and the ever-multiplying "fees" to do every fucking thing under the sun aren't slowly crushing the average Joe.

This is an economy with no visible means of support. We have been sold a bill of goods that we can be solely a "service" economy. We have bought into the notion that manufacturing is unnecessary. We have let the stable, well-paying jobs be sent elsewhere. The stratification that has resulted will, I think, ultimately be our downfall.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:54 PM on February 5, 2008




Debt isn't the problem per se . . .

Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation; it never visits nor travels; it takes no pleasure; it is never laid off work nor discharged from employment; it never works on reduced hours. It never has short crops or droughts; it never pays taxes [?], it buys no food, it wears no clothes and owns no home; it has no expense of living; it has no love nor sympathy; it is as hard and soulless as a granite cliff. Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.

posted by panamax at 5:07 PM on February 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


me and my monkey:

The phone cost bit was about the exact same phone that he was showing as he lied about it's $50 cost.

The flying thing was about the fact that air travel is now not just aboutdesire to travel, but rather the standard way to go long distances, which is often a necessity in today's world, particularly for the middle class, educated person in a low-level white-collar job, who's family is now spread all across the country instead of down the street as they were fifty or one hundred years ago.

Unless you were just intentionally misrepresenting my argument.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:15 PM on February 5, 2008


Why? I can't imagine ever being that upset over a monetary debt. Debt isn't failure...it's just debt.

A lot of reasons, really.

- I was in my early twenties, so I didn't really have much in the way of perspective.

- I had grown up witnessing my parents struggling with debt for many years. I felt trapped and overwhelmed in a cycle of monetary struggle that was passed from generation to generation.

- I had also recently lost my job (in point of fact, I was missing work for the same reasons that spawned my medical bills) and felt that I was facing homelessness. In hindsight, this was ridiculous, because I could have just moved back in with my parents or spent a couple of months couchsurfing. As I said before, not much perspective.

- The calls from the collection agencies really were bordering on threatening, and they were constant. I would go out for eight hours to look for a job, only to come home and find over twenty messages on the answering machine. My roommate was a saint to put up with the constant calls. Being so young, I didn't really have much in the way of a coping mechanism for dealing with them.

Ultimately, had I known then what I know now, I could have wrapped the situation up in a matter of months without the least bit of difficulty. At the time, though, it seemed completely insurmountable. The amount that I owed at that time is a small percentage (as in, 3%) of what several of my friends owe today; I admire their emotional fortitude for handling debt much better than I did, even as I shake my head in disbelief at how they acquired so much debt in the first place.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 5:17 PM on February 5, 2008


Panamax... as a PHP programmer and well documented member of the petite bourgeoisie, your comment totally cracked me up. I dunno, though... I really do feel like we live in a world of great abundance. It's remarkable when you think about it -- within five miles of my house, there are probably at least five full sized grocery stores, jammed full of affordable, amazing and nutritious food.

What a country!
posted by ph00dz at 5:18 PM on February 5, 2008


It's remarkable when you think about it

Every time I unwrap a Barbacoa burrito at Chipotle I marvel at the sum of labor required to produce this marvel of sustenance and how few lines of code I had to write to acquire it.
posted by panamax at 5:27 PM on February 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


> air travel is now not just about desire to travel, but rather the standard way to go long distances, which is often a necessity in today's world, particularly for the middle class, educated person in a low-level white-collar job.

Nope, still not buying the canard that air travel is a necessity of life. First, it's about choice - if you're moving away for a job, you've presumably factored in the cost of visits home vs the higher wage which increases one's discretionary income to pay for said flights; and second because the majority of flights between major centres can be had for stupid cheap.

re: debt and interest, it's not that hard to consolidate debt into one low-interest debt. Heck the banks and lenders are sponsoring all those free credit-counseling services to help you do exactly that, because they greatly fear your other option: bankruptcy.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:30 PM on February 5, 2008


THREE TRILLION / $100K is . . . 30 MILLION jobs directly or indirectly supported by Big Government statism.

Cut Federal spending in half and see how great our economic opportunity for the average joe would become.


This is obviously a very stupid statement that even a die-hard Keynesian would scoff at, but I can't quite decide whether it commits the Lump of Labor fallacy, the Broken Window fallacy, or something in between them.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:33 PM on February 5, 2008


vanadium writes "Credit cards (IMHO) are better off thought of as a proxy for holding actual cash than as 'real credit' for any length of time. Use "em for the rewards, sure, but just make sure each and every purchase is backed with cash sitting in the bank."

That's exactly how I use them. Besides, I can't justify paying over 20% interest for anything. That starts to multiply exponentially if you pay the minimum, when you're paying 20%+ interest on 20%+ interest collected the month before, along with the principle. Highway robbery.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:37 PM on February 5, 2008


Kwantsar: explain.

The US will disburse $3.1T into the economy next FY. It's not all going to one person or firm, millions of people and firms will get their checks.

There would be immense dislocations if this figure were only $1.5T. I was in LA in the early 90s so I saw what happens in that case first-hand.
posted by panamax at 5:38 PM on February 5, 2008


because they greatly fear your other option: bankruptcy

Not after the 2005 BK change they don't. Watch Maxed Out for one look at how the credit card companies operate, and profit.
posted by panamax at 5:41 PM on February 5, 2008


No consumer debt now or ever. 8 more years on my mortgage. Car loan. I don't carry plastic around with me, although I'm quite fond of online shopping.
posted by nax at 5:41 PM on February 5, 2008


Wait ... what's consumer debt? I was under the impression that auto loans, mortgages, cash loans, whatever, all that qualified, as long as it was a personal and not business debt.

In any event, I have a small cash loan with the bank that will be paid off in a few months, and then a debt with my family that will be paid off later this year. Although, every single time in the past when I almost got out of debt, something else came along to bring it back, so I'm trying to be cautiously optimistic. It would be a relief. No mortgage, but no house ownership, either.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:54 PM on February 5, 2008


But enough bragging. Basically what we've got for an economy is bread and circuses, sold to working and professional class Americans as the manifestation of their civil rights (that would be the civil right to own stuff I guess). This has been reinforced by the shiboleth that consumer spending must continue at higher and higher levels because that's what's supporting the economy (which I guess is true, since our criminal corporations and their trained ponies in the government allowed them to ship all our manufacturing capacity abroad). These same criminals then set up straw men like "terrorists," "illegal immigrants," "liberals," etc. to direct people's attention away from their criminal activity. Add to this the gutting of journalism standards coupled with media consolidation and the villainization of traditional disinterested, nonpartisan, hard nosed reporting, and you've got a middle class that knows it's in bad shape, but has misidentified the culprit.

And y'know, we sat back and fucking let it happen.
posted by nax at 5:54 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, we're posting our personal financial history on Metafilter now?
posted by The World Famous at 5:55 PM on February 5, 2008


Damn, got to quit hitting send. I've always understood consumer debt as unsecured loans such as those on credit cards. Car loans and mortgages are secured by actual goods. Correct me if I'm wrong (I could be. I was once.)
posted by nax at 5:56 PM on February 5, 2008


The World Famous writes "So, we're posting our personal financial history on Metafilter now?"

Oh, no, we haven't even scratched the surface on that. It's a sordid tale meant for late nights around a campfire, under a full moon, when the moment is just right.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:05 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


panamax: The US will disburse $3.1T into the economy next FY. It's not all going to one person or firm, millions of people and firms will get their checks.

There would be immense dislocations if this figure were only $1.5T. I was in LA in the early 90s so I saw what happens in that case first-hand.



There would be $1.5T more money in people's paychecks and investments accounts. Even if you pulled out enough to balance the budget and make a start at paying down the national debt, that leaves maybe $1T of new money available to consumer.

The US govmt will never allocate money as efficiently as individual citizens could.
posted by hupp at 6:09 PM on February 5, 2008


The US govmt will never allocate money as efficiently as individual citizens could

Right. Efficiency is not the issue. The middle classes' prospects in this world is. Capital looks after its own, and devil take the hindmost. See the 19th century for how that works in the real world.
posted by panamax at 6:19 PM on February 5, 2008


It's a sordid tale meant for late nights around a campfire, under a full moon, when the moment is just right.

I'll start putting together the MeTa thread for that meetup.
posted by The World Famous at 6:23 PM on February 5, 2008


Indeed. I know those burritos well, Panamax.
posted by ph00dz at 6:40 PM on February 5, 2008


The US govmt will never allocate money as efficiently as individual citizens could.

I very much question the assertion that individual citizens could build interstates, or run fire/police/medical services alone, etc. etc. no matter how much money they had.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:50 PM on February 5, 2008


Parasite unseen let me congratulate you on your becoming a ten thousandaire.
It's no easy accomplishment and I salute you! I remember my first 10K :)
There are many ways to live a debt free life here is one good resource if you want to continue on that path.

The answer at least for us was simple: "live like no one else so you can live like no one else" The actual doing of it was a bit harder. But yeah the Happy Hippo family is totally dept free, and have been for a number of years. We don't use consumer debt or take on any debt for any reason. Yes we own a nice little business, and yes we own our modest home and vehicles outright. No big inheritance, no big anything really except a change in attitude about the way we were living. If we wanted something and didn't have the funds, we saved up for it. But it's interesting, once you don't owe anything, except actual monthly living expenses, it's pretty amazing how fast your funds will grow when you put them to work for you. Just like interest works against you 24hrs a day when you owe, it works 24hrs a day for you when you invest. Don't get me wrong we have no boats or motorcycles even though we could certainly afford them now. We do travel a bunch, and we make a habit of giving back to our community both in time and funds. The giving part, without a doubt, is what makes us the happiest.
posted by HappyHippo at 9:12 PM on February 5, 2008


Consumer debt does not include mortgage debt. At least in general terms.

Consumer debt is any money that is lent to you that you can abscond responsibility for through bankruptcy. In practical terms.

That's why student loans aren't consumer debt, even though reason would dictate they should be treated as such.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:48 PM on February 5, 2008


“The problem is of course that the middle class often exceeds their resources on luxuries and end up in debt. But that is not the fault of anyone but them.”

Yeah. My buddy was telling me I should get a new car. Pops and whistles to me.
Why should a get a new car?
‘This one’s old. Looks like a POS’
But...it runs fine.
‘Yeah, but it’s junk’
No, see, it goes just great. Little body damage, some rust, but the engine is well maint...
‘You should get a Hummer’

T.V. went out the other day. Went to a big store, looked at vast seas of HDTV, Plasma, etc etc. - got a huge t.v. for cheap because it was one of the old tube models. Something that 10 years ago would have been top of the line, cheap as dirt on clearance.
But a lot of my friends do really go way overboard.

There is a sort of self-reciprocating thing going on there though at the higher end. Sometimes your social life is linked to your professional life. So you do have to entertain and some of that money goes to overhead. Guy I know is a real whale, I mean he flies his own jet. You can fit my house in his foyer. Butler, the whole thing. Well about 70 -80% of the time he uses his house to entertain, has people stay there, etc. etc. all for professional ends. When we hang out he wears jeans and there’s no pretense. But he has to put on the show to impress people he’s dealing with.

Granted he’s wealthy. But a lot of the same sort of thing goes on in other situations. Your social circle intersects your professional circle.
Whether there’s a real reality there (as in ‘I have to have this guy stay in my house and be impressed or I lose this $20 million contract’) or it’s just an illusion, the effects are real.
We might go into someone’s house and judge them by the validity of what they’re saying, not the fact that they don’t have top of the line whatchamacallits, but that old ‘I drive the Cadillac’ bump folks seem to get - seem to think they’re dealing with someone of importance - isn’t utterly unfounded. Machiavellian really. Act like the top guy, convince people you are the top guy - voila’ you become the top guy. Doesn’t always work of course. But for the most part the people who squeeze a nickel until Jefferson craps are the poor (’cause they have to) and the rich (’cause it’s how they stay rich). The folks in the middle tend to spend the money on the show trying - in some way - to either live rich or become actually rich whether by superstitious osmosis or actually impressing folks and making social contacts and climbing.

Still, come to think of it the stuff I rely on professionally is absolutely top of the line and I’ve customed or extraed out of my own pocket. Impresses the hell out of my collegues. I’m just lucky everyone’s afraid to come anywhere near my house.

“how much of this very-real credit crisis would still exist if there weren't millions of americans trying to figure out how to support the children they chose to bring into this world?”

It’s my understanding but for immigration we’d be at negative population growth.

“but places particular emphasis on the long-term consideration of effects and consequences of the decision to bear/rear a child.”

Who - places the emphasis? Who decides, a priori, whether I am a fit parent or not?
Why would a very loving stable poor family be a worse environment than a wealthier family that hides their dysfunction or abusive natures well - and more importantly how does whomever is placing this emphasis discern that?

Some one or some group must make those decisions and force that responsibility. I’d rather not give anyone that power. Particularly because they don’t have to live with the consequences.

Same deal with reproductive rights. I’m very very strongly opposed to abortion on a great many levels. But there’s no way I’d want anyone other than the individual having the power to make that decision for themselves. They don’t have to live with the child they force a woman to have.
I greatly favor adoption, education on birth control, etc. etc. just about anything to prevent an abortion, except coercion or force.
Which is what it sounds like you’re going for.

If you’re talking about the whole tax credit thing, meh. There’s an argument there to be had. I don’t particularly care b/c we’re well off enough to have a whole phalanx of kids.

“and Candace Bushnell for sex therapy...”

I’d’ve thought Candace Bergen - didn’t she jerk off Art Garfunkel?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:03 PM on February 5, 2008


I honestly expected more from Reason.

Somebody's encountering Reason for the first time.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:20 PM on February 5, 2008


While the video is certainly slanted, I'm not sure I agree about the airplane travel/cellphone thing. Just because something has become ubiquitous doesn't mean it's essential.

I'd be debt free if my work hadn't screwed up on my income tax deductions last year. Now I have to take the money I planned to pay off my relatively low credit card balance and use it to pay off The Man. Actually, I have enough in the bank and other assets that I could pay off both fairly painlessly, but I don't feel secure with less than $1500 in the bank.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:31 PM on February 5, 2008


P.G., I like to rag on Reasonmag too but they sorta redeem themselves with this exposé on the neocon/creationist axis within conservatism.

Do know why they call their magazine Reason?




'Cuz Wank was taken.

posted by panamax at 10:37 PM on February 5, 2008


You people so proud of not holding any debt should take a minute to think about the combined effects of a weakening dollar and runaway inflation on debtholders versus the debt-free. In real terms, both those effects serve to decrease the real value of the debt over time; in essence the debt is working for the debtholder because it was expensive dollars when the debt was taken out but it is cheap dollars when the debt is repaid.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:07 PM on February 5, 2008


ikkyu2 : as a person who isn't in debt, I'm very aware of the problems that inflation may visit upon me. My viewpoint is that it is still better than debt in this situation, in that I have the ability to choose possibilities that may preserve my cash for the future. If I was in debt, the only choices I would have would be to refinance if possible or to pay the debt off in different intervals - fast, slow, whatever. Being able to choose investments that may beat the inflation rate is a luxury.

The problem with this is that, on some level, I'm aware that deflation will help me. Deflation would be deeply damaging to the country, and could result in widespread death and disease. It's very, very odd to realize that such a situation could be helpful to you.
posted by suckerpunch at 11:21 PM on February 5, 2008


in essence the debt is working for the debtholder because it was expensive dollars when the debt was taken out but it is cheap dollars when the debt is repaid

dunno, I think Japan's Lost Decade is the prospect we're looking at here.

It's not the price-inflation that makes debt decline, it's wage inflation. I iz jus' not seein' that, except for perhaps security guards, prison wardens, and the like.

Debt People in general make dollars not yen or euros so currency changes are rather irrelevant, too.
posted by panamax at 12:27 AM on February 6, 2008


In real terms, both those effects serve to decrease the real value of the debt over time; in essence the debt is working for the debtholder because it was expensive dollars when the debt was taken out but it is cheap dollars when the debt is repaid.

If you're not making more money now, it doesn't matter, because you won't be able to pay back your cheaper debt anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:31 AM on February 6, 2008


This thread is just as stupid as the video. Mefite's personal financial situation or your views on the morality of other people's spending habits don't mean shit to the economy. The fact is that since Greenspan, the federal reserve and all our nations financial institutions have encouraged predatory lending and an unsustainable consumer spending in order to make the richest Americans even richer than before. They have also succeeded in convincing the middle class that this is the only way the economy can work and that they should be happy, because even though they are working more than ever before, at least the can get a cheap loan for a new boat.

They've also brilliantly pulled one of the oldest cons in class warfare: The rich convincing the middle class that the poor are poor because they lack fiscal responsibility.
posted by afu at 2:49 AM on February 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


You think the Barbacoa is amazing? The other day I bought a 12 pack of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. I paid full price, they were not on sale. MSRP on that box was $1.29.

Think about that for a second. They can sell those delicious little treats for about A DIME each, presumably for profit.
posted by butterstick at 6:42 AM on February 6, 2008


I might also note that it's not that being middle class sucks or is worse than historical models, but that the number of people who are middle class in America has been shrinking, with far fewer going up than down.
posted by klangklangston at 8:14 AM on February 6, 2008


I once heard Tom Wolfe once say in a talk he gave that in the "American Century -20th Century" your average middle class Joe could do things even beyond the grasp of royalty of centuries past , like Louis "Sun King" XIV - things like take a Tropical Cruise, have fresh squeezed orange juice, chocolate, entertainment on demand, and leisurely things like that. (He put it better than that) ...that always stuck with me.
posted by celerystick at 8:58 AM on February 6, 2008


Simplistic video makes simplistic argument that many people poke holes through.

News at 11.

I mean, really, did you expect something insightful, subtle and layered in a 7 minute video online? Did you expect a fair, balanced argument from Reason? (I'm a subscriber, but I'm not delusional about their POV.)

Some (time or money) costs have gone down substantially over the years (although notice how the video keeps changing the timeline in which its making the comparison, suggesting that by manipulating the exact years of comparison, it makes a stronger case than it would had they just picked an arbitrary year, say, 1925, and done comparisons from there). Some (time or money) costs have gone up substantially.

What we trade in high healthcare costs, we receive longer lives.

What we trade in high mortgage costs, we receive in much larger houses. (Although I wonder about this last one a bit, since one of the houses I had the honor of buying had a servant's stairway, circa 1920. I'm thinking if this middle class family in 1920 could afford a live-in servant, and I can't now, something is askew.)

A nuanced, complex conversation about this issue could be had. But I wouldn't expect it from Drew Carey.

(Sorry Drew!)
posted by docjohn at 9:06 AM on February 6, 2008


We carry some consumer debt. And I stress out about it. But there is nothing inherently wrong with it. In fact it's an awesome tool if you manage it correctly.

Debt, consumer, lines of credit, or otherwise, is mostly unavoidable if you own your own business. Cash flow has to be managed and optimized for the success of the business. And we have employee salaries for which we are responsible. In fact I didn't even issue MY SELF a salary until late last year.

Nearly all our consumer debt not associated with the business is from travel to Europe. Which we budget about $4000 per year in debt and usually pay off in a three to five months. And if you travel using credit is easier and safer than cash. Especially with the falling dollar and all that using credit can be managed.
posted by tkchrist at 11:07 AM on February 6, 2008


tkchrist-- Debt, consumer, lines of credit, or otherwise, is mostly unavoidable if you own your own business.

So true! This is one of the enormous burdens under which not-for-profit businesses operate, namely that they are not allowed to go into debt. All growth is expected to come out of current revenue, and if you have a "deficit" you are considered to be poorly managed. Imagine trying to run a business without ever borrowing to invest in growth, new, updated or improved systems, research or new products. Welcome to NFP.

Consumers should go into debt to create future wealth (buy a house, go to school), but not to fund playtime. Which I think everyone here is pretty much saying. And yeah, Drew Carey ain't exactly Allen Greenspan, but it's okay to use humor, even lame, pointless and shallow humor, if it gets dialogs like this going. Plus, he's awful cute.
posted by nax at 11:47 AM on February 6, 2008


I'm thinking if this middle class family in 1920 could afford a live-in servant, and I can't now, something is askew.

They're working on it right now; give it a few years.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Conservatives want to turn every argument into an argument about personal responsibility. Good on them, hope they enjoy the America they've created, but the point they're eliding is, the middle class keeps getting smaller.

Health costs are accelerating faster than income, education costs are accelerating faster than income, and if you're entering into the housing market now for the first time, you're pretty much paying the tab for everyone else's party. Most baby boomers (i.e. my parents) didn't save enough to be able to retire, much less pay their health care costs as they get older. Yes people buy Hummers and ski-doos on credit, but they also use credit to cover big-ticket items that can hardly be considered frivolous - medical costs, schooling, care for their aging relatives, and housing.

The jobs that were considered mainstays of the middle class - manufacturing, skilled labor, and now more and more knowledge work like programming and IT - have gone offshore and are not likely to return. By arguing relentlessly for open borders, both the left and the right have tacitly enabled capital flight and eroded any last bits of residual power held by unions. It's easy to walk down my street and point out the guys who are clearly working 2 or 3 crappy jobs, when they might have been working one good one a generation ago.

Rather than having fun bashing people who live on credit, responsible people ought to stand up and admit that we're dismantling the economic engine that has worked to America's benefit since the end of WWII.
posted by newdaddy at 1:00 AM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Having kids, yes, does require some financial and other responsibility. But I don't want to live in any society where only the rich can afford to have kids. And people who are chronically not responsible for the big things in life, and who are, coincidentally or causally, poor, generally are not deterred from having kids. So again, it's the middle class that is shrinking.

You may think having kids is a luxury for the individual - but that's not true for society. Take a look at the population crash that's going on over in the Russian republics and take a guess what the outcome will be in ten or twenty years.

Some may feel virtuous saying "I know I'm not responsible or affluent enough, so I'm not having any kids". I hardly think that's a virtue. If you feel like what you're saying or doing is at all important, you ought to feel some obligation to pass it on. Maybe you have some other way of contributing to the future, but - you're fooling yourself if you think that the grandchildren of rich guys will venerate (or even read) the self-rationalizing blog entries of people no longer around.
posted by newdaddy at 8:21 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


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