On The Money,
Financial Advice for the Working-Class
The Problem of the Middle-Class
I hear a lot of the talk about the poor, put in terms of a problem to be solved, for example, the homelessness problem, the problem of poverty, or the problem of income inequality. On the other hand, I never hear anyone talk about the middle-class in such terms.
You never hear politicians talk about helping people break out of the cycle of income and consumption that keeps them locked in a middle-class lifestyle. You never hear this kind of talk, even though the middle-class is, by far, the bigger problem, both globally and locally. This is undeniably the case.
The reason we, here in the US, representing about 5% of the world’s population, consume roughly 30% of the worlds natural resources, is that we have a lot of middle-class people. Sure, our middle-class consumes much more, per-capita, than middle-class people elsewhere in the world, but the dream of a middle-class lifestyle, and the resources consumed in the process of realizing it, or at least trying to, lies at the heart of our current global environmental crisis.
In the same way that suburban sprawl degraded the countryside by leveling forest and farm for millions of tract homes in the US, the growing global middle-class will happily plow under everything that makes life sustainable on planet Earth, for an attractive, but illusory, high-consumption lifestyle. The middle-class is an idea not founded in reality, so it cannot be made sustainable. It’s a disease, a mental disorder, a social disorder, a cultural disorder. This disease makes life more difficult for everyone, especially the poor, and soon, unless we can stop it, this disease will render the entire planet uninhabitable.
Clearly the middle-class is a problem, if not the problem. But it’s important to realize that the middle-class is composed of people, suffering people, confused people, people who need our help. They didn’t ask to catch this disease, and they can be cured, so we need to address the problem of the middle-class, compassionately.
People infected with Middle-Class Syndrome require pretty substantial incomes to support their high-consumption lifestyle, this often requires them to work long hours at stressful jobs. Many of these people took out huge student loans to get the education that helped them land those salaried positions, and/or have mortgages and other debt commitments that keep them trapped in a high-stress, high-income, and high-consumption pattern of behavior, and they see no way out.
Our capitalist economy dictates that everything, including workers lives, even salaried workers lives, be managed for maximum productivity, to remain competitive in the marketplace. A person managed for maximum productivity, really doesn’t have the energy left at the end of the day to genuinely contribute to society. So, instead, the middle-class consumes products, substances and services to compensate for the emptiness that characterizes the life of someone managed for maximum productivity.
They buy stuff. The merchants who sell them stuff, the enablers, of course, tell the middle-class that they are great people, and that they shouldn’t waste their energy contributing to society, when they can just “vote with their dollar”. In this way, the merchants become dependent on the middle-class ‘s addiction to consumption, and the middle-class become dependent on the merchants for their self-esteem, social interactions and sense of well-being, leading to a vicious cycle of income and consumption that characterizes Middle-Class Syndrome, and maintains the flow of cash into the pockets of the super-rich.
While a person with this disease may consume three or five or ten times the resources of a person living near the poverty line, there’s no evidence that it makes them any happier than even people living deep in poverty. In fact we have quite a bit of evidence that most people with Middle-Class Syndrome live in real misery, far beyond that endured by most of the world’s poor.
Besides the fact that a very large percentage of the middle-class abuse alcohol, prescription medications and illegal drugs, far more than the poor and working-class, addictions to substances like oil, coal, gold, jewels and plastic blobjects full of high-tech circuitry, also plague those afflicted with Middle-Class Syndrome. Most can no longer control their own behavior, and so they slip further and further into self-degradation, taking the neighborhood, the community, and the natural world down with them.
So, we need to address the problem of the middle-class, not only as an environmental issue, and a social justice issue, but also as a public health issue. We need to address their mental health issues. We need to address their substance abuse issues. But, we absolutely must find a way to change their abhorrent behavior.
We need to educate them about how to behave respectfully. Because many middle-Class people grew up middle-Class, they never learned to respect themselves, other people, or the community of life. They simply know no other way of life. As tempting as it is to blame the middle-class for all the harm they do, we must recognize that they are caught in a trap and are simply too stupid to find their way out of it, and have forgotten how to function effectively in the real world.
Meanwhile, nearly all of the world’s resources, including the life-force of most of the world’s people, gets sucked up and destroyed, to fill the increasingly empty lives of the middle-class, and the already overstuffed pockets of the super-rich, for whom the middle-class mostly work. Yes, if we as a species, and an ecosystem, hope to survive this century, we need to find an effective, permanent, and final solution to the middle-class problem, right now.