Tuesday, December 14, 2010

World Wide Middle Class Values

My public service this morning is reading David Brooks, so you don't have to. He suggests that the growing world middle class should adopt the values of America's:

American culture was built on the notion of bourgeois dignity. We’ve always been lacking in aristocratic grace and we’ve never had much proletarian consciousness, but America did produce Ben Franklin, one of the original spokesmen of middle-class values. It did produce Horatio Alger, who told stories about poor boys and girls who rose to middle-class respectability. It does produce a nonstop flow of self-help leaders, from Dale Carnegie to Oprah Winfrey. It did produce the suburbs and a new sort of middle-class dream.

Americans could well become the champions of the gospel of middle-class dignity. The U.S. could become the crossroads nation for those who aspire to join the middle and upper-middle class, attracting students, immigrants and entrepreneurs.

To do this, we’d have to do a better job of celebrating and defining middle-class values. We’d have to do a better job of nurturing our own middle class. We’d have to have the American business class doing what it does best: catering to every nook and cranny of the middle-class lifestyle. And we’d have to emphasize that capitalism didn’t create the American bourgeoisie. It was the social context undergirding capitalism — the community clubs, the professional societies, the religious charities and Little Leagues.


--The social context underlying capitalism was the illusion that it helps everybody, that a stable, confident middle class is the natural and inevitable result of unrestrained capitalism. The narrative of self-help usually, if not universally, excludes the possibility that self-help alone might be insufficient; its dark side is that failure is the fault of the individual and not of the rest of us. Brooks studiously avoids mention of the factors atomizing the middle class, setting factions at each others' throats: racism, sexism, the criminal 'justice' system, denial of a common humanity with others. He, too, fails to mention the absolute primacy of money, materialism, economic thinking undergirding it all, and that primacy's role in shredding the social contract, which barely exists anymore even here, much less worldwide--that, too, a term he fails to mention.

Other than all that, I agree with him entirely...

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