In Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Acemoglu and Robinson present the role of the middle class in the formation and continuity of democracy. Since democracy forms as a “response to a serious revolutionary threat or significant social unrest”, the middle class can be a catalyst by “fueling and maintaining” the revolutionary movement. Once the democracy is formed, the middle class then acts as a “buffer” between the citizens and political elites, limiting policy changes that will move too far in favor of one of the groups. This makes democracy more attractive for both parties as it provides an incentive for the elites not to repress the citizenry and for the citizens not to uprise against the elites .
However, a professor at Vanderbilt University, Ganesh Sitarman, has posited that the United States is under threat from increased economic inequality, causing the middle-class buffer to shrink. This is in part due to “millions of vacant jobs and millions of Americans who are either unemployed or have dropped out of the labor market because they lack the skills needed to fill those jobs.” This creates a paradox in which there are more jobs available than those who are unemployed, but an inability for those unemployed to attain positions due to poor qualifications.
As a result, the United States has been facing significant turbulence in regards to democratic stability, even being referred to as a flawed democracy. The Freedom House has ranked the United States “behind 51 of the 87 Free countries” with a total score of 86/100 “Aggregate Freedom Score,” 33/40 “Political Rights” score, and 53/60 “Civil Liberties” score. So how can the government revive the middle class and bring more security to the democratic values that the Freedom House note are failing in the United States?
Ben Shapiro, a prominent conservative commentator, has quite often stated that to increase your economic conditions you need to only meet three criteria. That is to graduate high school, not have a child out of wedlock, and get a job. It seems fair to say some blame does belong to the individual citizens and not only the government or corporations. However, it is fairly easy to play the blame game and in the end, this does not provide a solution to the problem. This solution if successful, though, would also take a minimum of one generation, and likely more, to resolve some of our economic inequality. With how contentious elections have been, as well as the democratic insecurity we are facing, it is hard to guarantee we have time for this process to occur.
A few other suggestions have been provided such as reforming the education system in the United States to provide better skills and experience in order to revitalize the working middle class and fill open positions. But, with this comes increased education costs, increased student loans, and a long length of time waiting for these workers to gain education and skills necessary to fill the open positions.
Another idea is to place the burden on the corporations to train new workers and stimulate the economy. However, “U.S. companies spent nearly $90 billion on training programs in 2018” and the problem still persists. It also does not seem ethical to burden businesses with the entirety of the problem. Especially when the goal of a business is to make a profit, and there is a significant gain in reducing costs by receiving labor from locations where skills are higher overall and labor is cheaper. If we do shift this burden, a consequence for smaller corporations could be an inability to afford such training costs and lead to the elimination of those jobs entirely. It is hard to ensure that this solution will fix the problem or if it will just bring other negative effects to economic inequality.
A third option is to have government produce policies regulating the education system and workplace environment to mandate skills that should be taught by each institution, as well as create jobs that utilize these exact teachings. This would provide an expansion of available jobs while guaranteeing a satisfactory workforce to fill open positions, however, this surely can not cover every industry. There will always be positions requiring more qualified candidates and a higher overall level of education/experience. It seems that this would be a reliable measure for some businesses and the creation of future jobs but still leaves the problem for the millions of already vacant positions.
Ultimately, the middle class is going to require more than just one of these solutions, or maybe an entirely different one. Politicians, educational institutions, and corporations have to come together to find a solution to stimulate the economy and the middle class or else democracy in America will surely continue down the dangerous path it is on. It is a problem that has seen little attention among the rising concern for social issues and the partisan divide, but one that needs serious consideration before we come under threat of repression and/or revolution.
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https://www.cbsnews.com/media/5-signs-youre-no-longer-middle-class/ by Jen Grantham
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