National Public Radio launched a special series on the middle class this week, highlighting its struggles, future, and political relevance. I contribute my own commentary on NPR where I point out the middle class itself is more an aspiration than a defined state of economic being.
In part, I write:
"Traditionally, then, the debate is less about preserving a specific economic group as about ensuring that those who are not in that iconic midsection of the national income distribution can get to a higher level. Our Founding Fathers designed our political institutions so that our economy and communities would be open and dynamic; it's more important that you can get to where you want to go than whether you have already gotten to your destination. A big part of the current national political debate, set in the shadow of the stagnant recovery of the Great Recession, is over whether that dynamism is even possible.
"Traditionalists have argued that dynamic, open-market economies are the most dependable institutions for vaulting individuals and households to a coveted level of income security, whether through entrepreneurship, homeownership, steady employment or the financial cushion of a pension or savings account. Now, these staples of social stability appear to be in jeopardy. That doesn't mean the aspirations have gone away, or that these aspirations don't motivate Americans in the workplace or the ballot box. Quite the opposite. The quest for economic opportunity, aspiring to enter the ranks of a new middle class, is in our cultural DNA."
A fundamental question voters will decide this coming November at the ballot box, as well as in 2012, is whether we will continue to rely on a free and open economy to achieve our middle class lifestyles or we will choose the bureaucracy of government to provide the illusion of middle-class financial security.