Class, the Industrial Revolution’s great political dividing line, is enjoying Information Age resurgence. It now threatens the political future of presidents, prime ministers and even Politburo chiefs.
As in the Industrial Age, new technology is displacing whole groups of people — blue- and white-collar workers — as it boosts productivity and creates opportunities for others. Inequality is on the rise — from the developing world to historically egalitarian Scandinavia and Britain.
But not a Democrat’s one:
This should give Democrats an issue, theoretically. But to date, Obama and his party seem incapable of harnessing the growing middle- and working-class unrest.
In fact, according to recent polls, these have been the voters that Democrats and the president have been losing over the past year as the economic stimulus failed to make a major dent in unemployment.
Part of this problem lies with the party’s base, which the urban historian Fred Siegel once labelled “the coalition of the overeducated and the undereducated.” Major urban centres like New York, Chicago and San Francisco might advertise themselves as enlightened, but they have lost much of their middle class and suffer the highest levels of income inequality.
And their opponents can’t figure it out either:
What is not clear is whether conservative parties can abandon their often slavish devotion to big corporate interests to take advantage of these new dynamics. For years, these parties have relied on divisive social issues, like immigration, to win working- and middle-class voters. But it’s possible that a focus on profligate government spending might yet increase the right’s appeal among mid-income voters.
As this current shift to greater inequality continues, the self-styled “popular” parties’ tendency to ignore class issues could prove disastrous.
I don’t think that the obsession with deficit spending is a political winner. Why? Because solving the problem will involve cutting benefits (many of which go to the middle class) and/or raising taxes (which will again hit the middle class.) If eliminating deficit spending was such a great political deal, the Republican Congress under George W. Bush would have done it.
I think it’s fair to say that we are beyond the point of no return on the deficit. There is simply not the growth potential–not under this government, at least–to repay our obligations. When the critical moment comes, the person or party which can seize the moment and the middle class discontent will make a dive for it, and then everything will be different.