Frank Buckley Author, The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” Today the story of American politics is the story of class struggles. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. We didn’t think we were divided into different classes. Neither did Marx.
America was an exception to Marx’s theory of social progress. By that theory, societies were supposed to move from feudalism to capitalism to communism. But the America of the 1850s, the most capitalist society around, was not turning communist. Marx had an explanation for that. “True enough, the classes already exist,” he wrote of the United States, but they “are in constant flux and reflux, constantly changing their elements and yielding them up to one another.” In other words, when you have economic and social mobility, you don’t go communist.
That is the country in which some imagine we still live, Horatio Alger’s America—a country defined by the promise that whoever you are, you have the same chance as anyone else to rise, with pluck, industry, and talent. But they imagine wrong.
The U.S. today lags behind many of its First World rivals in terms of mobility. A class society has inserted itself within the folds of what was once a classless country, and a dominant New Class—as social critic Christopher Lasch called it—has pulled up the ladder of social advance ment behind it.
One can measure these things empirically by comparing the correlation between the earnings of fathers and sons. Pew’s Economic Mobility Project ranks Britain at 0.5, which means that if a father earns £100,000 more than the median, his son will earn £50,000 more than the average member of his cohort. That’s pretty aristocratic. On the other end of the scale, the most economically mobile society is Denmark, with a correlation of 0.15. The U.S. is at 0.47, almost as immobile as Britain.
A complacent Republican establishment denies this change has occurred. If they don’t get it, however, American voters do. For the first time, Americans don’t believe their children will be as well off as they have been. They see an economy that’s stalled, one in which jobs are moving offshore. In the first decade of this century, U.S. multinationals shed 2.9 million U.S. jobs while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million. General Electric provides a striking example. Jeffrey Immelt became the company’s CEO in 2001, with a mission to advance stock price. He did this in part by reducing GE’s U.S. workforce by 34,000 jobs. During the same period, the company added 25,000 jobs overseas. Ironically, President Obama chose Immelt to head his Jobs Council.