Michael Lind has another excellent article on the deficiencies of the major ideologies of the United States. According to Lind, conservative attempts to create an “ownership society” of home owners and miniature capitalists failed dismally when the bubble economy collapsed, taking real estate and private savings accounts down with it. On the Left, the progressive project of creating a nation of well-educated professionals has also failed given the decline of good jobs outside of the protected, guild-like professions such as law and medicine.
At the end of Lind’s article, he makes a point that is very much out of step with much of the American ideological mythology that dominates both the Right and the Left in this country. Lind writes:
"Supporters of the ownership society and the knowledge economy alike have emphasized economic aspiration above economic security. That might have seemed plausible during the bubble years, but it does not fit the conditions of distressed workers in today's post-crash, slow-growth economy. Whatever forms the next conservatism and the next liberalism take in the US, they may be based as much on a politics of security as the politics of aspiration."
Now, the idea that Americans should value economic security over aspiration seems downright treasonous. Placing economic security above upward mobility sounds like something those socialist Europeans would support. For pioneering Americans, it is nothing less than a betrayal of our highest ideals, our very nature as a people! Or is it?
Many Americans can remember a time when even blue-collar workers with little education made comfortable livings. Sure, they did not make enough to travel to exotic locations on holiday or eat out at the swankiest restaurants every week, put workers made enough to support a family in relative comfort, often on only one breadwinner’s income. They did not need to become doctors or lawyers, nor did they need to become real estate moguls or stock market gurus. They worked hard but they were paid proper wages, thanks to a number of factors, but often because they were members of powerful labor unions.
The 1950s may have been stuffy and conformist, but at least the post-war era produced a society that gave most Americans a good opportunity to find decent work at a decent wage and also to afford to raise a family. As more and more young people find their futures looking bleaker and bleaker, we may very well see an end to America’s obsession with upward mobility and a new emphasis on economic security. The devastation wrought by neoliberalism may prove to have been useful after all if it leads to the destruction of the Horatio Alger and meritocracy myths that have been so detrimental to American society.