Izginjajoči srednji razred

Ekonomski zgodovinar Peter Temin iz MIT bo čez dva tedna izdal dolgo pričakovano knjigo “The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy“. Na Amazonu zbirajo prednaročila na podlagi kratkega teaserja. Heather Boushey  (sourednica vodniča za obdobje po Pikettyju “After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality“, ki bo izšla maja) je imela možnost knjigo že prebrati in je ta teden objavila recenzijo. Zanimivost Teminove knjige, ki opisuje zgodovino ameriškega srednjega razreda od sužnjelastniškega do Trumpovega časa, je, da ameriško družbeno strukturo opisuje z modelom dualnega gospodarstva, ki ga je ekonomist Arthur Lewis sredi 1950. let razvil za pojasnjevanje razvoja nerazvitih držav.

Drugače povedano, Temin analizira ameriško družbo kot nerazvito državo, ki je izrazito dualne narave. Na eni strani so bogati, na drugi revni. Ni sloja vmes, srednji razred izginja hkrati z delovnimi mesti v sredini plačne distribucije, ki so se že ali se še selijo v tujino. Ostajajo le še bogati in revni. Prvi živijo v lepih soseskah in pošiljajo svoje otroke na drage zasebne šole in univerze, ki jim prinesejo visoko plačane službe v tehnoloških panogah, financah in menedžmentu. Drugi životarijo v zloglasnih četrtih ali opustelih predelih srednjega vzhoda, njihovi otroci gredo v slabe javne šole in ne dokončajo kolidža, njihova usoda je minimalna plača. V primeru storjenih deliktov jih čaka tudi dualni pravosodni sistem – bogati plačajo kazen, revni gredo v zapor.

In v skladu z Lewisovim modelom, bogati potrebujejo revni sloj, da zanje poceni opravlja vse nujne storitve. Zato držijo njegove plače na nizkem nivoju (na donedavnega zamrznjeni ravni minimalne plače), hkrati pa tudi sebi znižuejo davke, da zanje ostane večji del ustvarjenega družbenega dohodka. Edini prehod iz revnega razreda v razred bogatih je izobrazba. Vendar pa prav ta kanal bogati zapirajo, kolikor se da, s slabo kvaliteto javnega šolstva (z limitiranjem denarja za javno šolstvo) in prohibitivno visokimi šolninami za privatne šole in univerze. Le redki se prebijejo čez na drugo stran.

Dualna struktura gospodarstev in družbe nerazvitih držav je tako persistentna in težko spremenljiva prav zato, ker razred bogatih postavlja politično elito. Zato je vprašanje ali so Teminovi recepti (predlogi) za odpravo dualnosti ameriške družbe (povečano javno financiranje šolstva, spremenjena kazenska politika itd.) sploh realistični. Zakaj bi bogati, ki kupujejo in postavljajo vsakokratno politično elito, privolili v spremembo sistema, ki so si ga postavili?

Seveda pa to še ne pomeni, da je dualnost gospodarskega razvoja in družbene strukture absolutno nespremenljiva. Najmanj enkrat se je v novejši zgodovini že spremenila. Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) je v treh polnih mandatih v obdobju 1933-1945 v temeljih spremenil ameriško družbeno strukturo – z velikimi javnimi naložbami v infrastrukturo, v šolstvo, z uvedbo storitev socialne države, z uvedbo minimalne plače, z regulacijo bančnega sektorja in z drastičnim dvigom davkov bogatim. Toda, da so te tektonske spremembe bile mogoče, se je morala prej zgoditi Velika depresija, masovni bankroti ter velika beda in lakota. In moral je priti na čelo možakar pravega kova.

Nisem prepričan, da je pretekla kriza, ki jo ameriški ekonomisti sicer imenujejo Velika recesija, na istem nivoju katastrofe, kot je bila Velika Depresija. Seveda ni. Morda pa so na tem nivoju družbene krize posledice, ki jih je ameriškemu srednjemu razredu povzročila nekontrolirana globalizacija. Toda zaenkrat so Američani svoje frustracije in bes namesto v novega FDR usmerili v lažnega preroka oziroma populističnega lažnivca in serijskega prevaranta Trumpa ter si s tem še zacementirali dualno družbeno strukturo, v kateri ni prostora za srednji razred. Morda pa bo Trump tisti, ki bo povzročil dovolj velik družbeni revolt, ki bo nato na površje pripeljal možakarja pravega kova, novega FDR.

Temin argues that the distribution of gains from economic growth today make the United States look like a developing economy. He builds on the dual sector model developed in the 1950s by W. Arthur Lewis. Looking at developing economies, Lewis proposed that economic growth and development did not conform to national boundaries. Within countries, he saw that “economic progress was not uniform, but spotty.” His model explains how development and lack of development progress side by side. One sector, which Lewis calls “capitalist,” is the home of modern production, where development is limited only by the amount of capital. The other sector, which he calls “subsistence,” is composed of poor farmers who supply a vast surplus of labor. In these two sectors’ symbiotic relationship the capitalist sector seeks to keep wages down to maintain an ongoing source of cheap labor.

Temin applies this framework to the United States today. He argues that “the vanishing middle class has left behind a dual economy.” His dual sectors are finance, technology, and electronics, or FTE—akin to Lewis’s capitalist sector—and low-skill work, akin to the subsistence sector, whose workers bear the brunt of the vagaries of globalization. The book lays out how members of the FTE sector seek to keep their own taxes low and suppress the wages they pay so as to maximize their profits. Mass incarceration, housing segregation, and disenfranchisement all serve—among other things—to keep the low-skill sector in a subservient labor market position. These developments play out along racial lines set by the nation’s history of slavery.

The bridge between these two sides of the economy is education. There are paths for children of low-wage families to get into the richer FTE capitalist group, but Temin argues that there are many more obstacles, especially for children from African-American families. This is why Temin’s top policy recommendation is universal access to high-quality preschool and greater financial support for public universities.

His second recommendation is to reverse policies that repress poor folk of any race. He advises an end to mass incarceration and housing discrimination so that families can escape the low-skill trap and more coherently integrate into the broader economy and society.

Alas, neither of these recommendations is potent enough to overcome the fundamental problems Temin identifies. The US path of natural progression toward greater equality has been detoured for decades now. The idea that the US economy is on a trend more like that of a developing economy than of a rich, developed nation may seem jarring, but that is exactly the nature of the distributional structure of the world’s richest economy.

The steps that brought the United States more equality in the middle of the 20th century certainly included attention to education—the United States was among the first to provide universal access to primary education nationwide, and the GI bill after World War II opened college doors to generations of students—but that was not the only policy. Among other things, the middle decades of that century also boasted high taxation on estates and top incomes—money that could be invested in broader economic growth—yet both have been seriously eroded over the past four decades. If we want to revive our vanishing middle class, which Temin so eloquently describes, we’ll need to do more to undermine the dual economy structures he so accurately details.

Vir: Heather Boushey, IMF Finance & Development

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