Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Quantifying (Or Downplaying) American Insecurity

Let it never be said that we at The White Collar Warrior don't acknowledge opposing views. The folks at Tech Central Station, for instance - those libertarian apologists who speak sooth to power - are prominent among those who belittle working people and dismiss their grievances as a sort of weaklings' hysteria. We don't like these dudes, but we read them occasionally anyway. They can prove inadvertently entertaining, as they sit naked behind the transparency of their biases.

At the link below is an interview of Karlyn Bowman, a poll analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. The AEI, according to Wikipedia, is "a conservative think tank". Their stated goal is "to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism — limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defense and foreign policies..." and so on. Not only that, but they have "emerged as one of the leading architects of the second Bush administration's public policy. More than two dozen AEI alumni have served either in a Bush administration policy post or on one of the government's many panels and commissions. AEI, along with the more conservative Heritage Foundation, is often cited as a center-right counterpart to the center-left Brookings Institution." The bottom line is that the AEI is scarcely a non-partisan institution, and Tech Central Station querying one of its researchers about the attitudes of the lumpen middle class is like a Confederate general asking the ghost of John C. Calhoun how the field slaves feel about the Emancipation Proclamation.

That said, let us go on. Bowman does indeed admit that a not insignificant minority of poll respondents express grave concern over the American economy. 10 percent expect to lose their jobs in the next year, 12 percent say their finances are "shaky", 10 percent are worried about paying their mortgages, 15 percent are "very worried" about being able to pay their monthly bills, 15 percent have in fact fallen behind on those bills, 20 percent say they have a problem paying medical bills, and 10 percent have declared bankruptcy at some point in their lives. Overall, Bowman says that "there seems to be slice of around 10-20 percent of the population that is very worried about keeping up."

At the other end of the spectrum, 15 percent say their finances are "very secure" - while another 56 percent say they are "fairly secure", which may or may not be a glass-is-half-full approach to a situation that might alarm other people. Bowman compares their recent responses to responses to similar surveys since 1991, declaring the results "very stable". What she does not say is that 1991 saw the start of one of the first really devastating white collar recessions. Ever since, layoffs, downsizing and debt have become familiar features in many middle class communities. 1991 constitutes the beginning of the current anti-worker epoch, and not some Edenic benchmark from happier times.

Bowman attributes some of the negative responses in the surveys as reflections of the "negative bias" of the "national media". She says, "There is rarely a good news story on the evening news..." She got that right - at least in the sense of "good" meaning "optimally informative". The evening news focuses on national and global issues for less than a half hour on network TV. Moreover, it is increasingly a vehicle for selling prescription medications and denture products, with an audience heavily weighted towards the already retired and large portions of its content dedicated to personal health issues and feel-good profiles of good old American folks from all walks of life. All that's unobjectionable enough, but I'd love to see more about Iraq and the economy on the news, not less. The "evening news" is hardly where Americans get their negative attitudes anyway. Large segments of the American working population do not watch the evening news at all, and get most of their info about the "economy" from personal experience.

Tech Central Station eggs Bowman on with its usual libertarian progressivist puffery of how swell everything's become for Americans as opposed to 50 years ago, or whenever. Bowman takes the bait: "The polls show that Americans are aware that life is better for them than it was for their parents and grandparents and that they are optimistic about their children's prospects. But when they answer questions about their job prospects for the next year or whether they have trouble making their mortgage payment, I doubt they think about this larger context." Ouch! Yessiree, the realities of the here and now will trump vague rhetoric about "technological progress" and "our brilliant future" every time. Tech Central Station responds by sputtering something about how "useful" these polls really are, and the interview ends with its head stuck politely in the sand.

Even the American Enterprise Institute admits that nearly one in five Americans is "very worried about keeping up." For all Tech Central Station's lame insinuations that this is actually good news, I wouldn't have expected a higher proportion myself. One in five Americans standing on the edge of the abyss is certainly enough to ring my alarm bells, even if it isn't enough for them.

"So, How Insecure Do Americans Really Feel?" from Tech Central Station

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