The Betrayal of the American Dream Hardcover – Jul 31 2012
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Booklist, **starred** review
Barlett and Steele address key elements of this betrayal [of the middle class] (globalization, outsourcing, taxes, pensions, financial-sector dominance), then offer suggestions for reversing it, including progressive tax reform, fair trade, infrastructure investment, focused retraining, and criminal prosecution of white-collar criminals. Expect demand.”
Columbia Journalism Review
The dedication reveals the emotional heart of their enterprise: Not merely number-crunching chroniclers of middle-class decline, they are invested in the fate of the people who exemplify it. Barlett and Steele’s preeminent talent is their knack for combining the micro and the macro. They look systemically at issues and policies, from the US tax code to healthcare. The questions they ask are both pragmatic (Does the system work?) and ideological (Who is benefiting, and at whose expense?). Their conclusions are buttressed by details gleaned from public records. But they also use the paper trail to track down the system’s apparent victims the laid-off, the discarded, the pensionless, and the uninsured.”
The ostensibly willful destruction of the American middle class is laid bare in this villains and underdogs story from the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting duo for folks bowled over by the recent financial meltdown, Barlett and Steele's book will resonate.”
Leonard Downie, Philadelphia Inquirer
Just in time for this year's election, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are continuing the crusade to save the American middle class that they began two decades ago as star investigative reporters at The Philadelphia Inquirer .At a time when the future of investigative reporting is at risk in the digital reconstruction of American news media, Barlett and Steele could once again pioneer new ways of doing it, as they did in part through this collaboration with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. In any event, the publication of The Betrayal of the American Dream during the home stretch of the national political campaign injects a provocative populist imperative into an increasingly intense and perhaps decisive partisan debate over the fate of the American middle class.”
The avuncular pair, renowned for chillingly accurate, if uncomfortable, observations, have meticulously sharpened their analysis. Now, four decades of mistaken tax and trade policy, declining public and private investment and willing disregard of existing laws have crippled many American industries and sent thousands upon thousands of U.S. jobs overseas without cause, they say. Given the power of their past groundbreaking work on health care, the economy and other political hot potatoes that shape how all Americans live, Betrayal’’ merits a careful read from anyone concerned about the nation’s economic future. It is almost haunting They dissect one industry after another with the precision and narrative flair that have won them many awards, including two Pulitzers. The writers conclude with a cogent plan for substantial, specific changes to rehabilitate the American dream and rescue the middle class."
Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star
"If ever there were a time to pitch a national read-in, this is it...The text we should all be reading is The Betrayal of the American Dream,’ by the reporting team of Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele. Published this month, the book is a nuanced and well-researched report on the crisis of the American middle class.”
The Betrayal of the American Dream is an angry book, denouncing the lies of corporate America and the elected officials it keeps on a leash woven from money.”
The team of Barlett and Steele have produced excellent journalism in the past, and they have done it again with The Betrayal of the American Dream, (2012) an analysis of the pain caused by the economic crisis for everyday people. This is a well written, readable book on the economic crisis and the 30 years of looting by corporate America that led to the crisis The authors, excellent investigative journalists, place human faces on the devastation being wrought in our economy, and the pain and suffering imposed on the many by the few. It is a book well worth reading.”
Dan Rodricks, Baltimore Sun
"Important reading in this election year.”
A brawling, journalistic mix-it-up The authors’ passion and anger are as clear in these pages as they are in the title.”
Urgent reading for anyone interested in contemporary America, not least as [a] stark reminder of what is barely being discussed in the presidential election.”
Creative Loafing Charlotte
Thank God for writers who are able to show the effects of political decisions on ordinary Americans. Two of the very best are Donald R. Barlett and James B. Steele, They shine again in their new book, The Betrayal of the American Dream (PublicAffairs, 306 pages, $26.99), in which America's overarching economic and political trends of the past 30 years are laid out clearly in intensely researched detail.”
Barlett and Steele cover a lot of ground in this relatively short, fast-paced new book. Their straightforward, impassioned prose is filled with real-life stories of people who are losing their grip on the American Dream. "
USA TodayBarlett and Steele are superb researchers and clear writers.”
HuntingtonNews.netThe Betrayal of the American Dream is an outstanding explanation of what we've done wrong, with suggestions on how we can stem the flow of our nation's life blood and bring back good paying jobs that are the foundation of a rapidly disappearing middle class.”
USA Today When James B. Steele and Donald L. Barlett met as young reporters at the Philadelphia Inquirer during 1971, nobody, including themselves, would have predicted they would spend the next 41 years (and counting) exposing illegal and ethical misbehavior inside the corporate-government nexus Especially poignant in the wake of the Great Recession that officially ended in June 2009 but has barely abated for countless millions of U.S. residents Using memorable anecdotes gleaned from deep reporting, Barlett and Steele show how the ruling class has instituted policies that mean the near abandonment in the job market for returning military veterans who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Seattle Timesrich in detail about how we got into this crisis and provide[s] roadmaps out.”
Charleston (WV) Gazettea primer that should be read by all Americans who really want to understand problems in our job market and our economy fascinating and readable.”
essential reading if you want to understand how we got into this mess and how we can move out of it”
Daily KosThe book is packed with important information and examples of the damage wrought by policies that allow companies to, for instance, avoid taxes, profit from sending jobs overseas, and strip workers of their pensions. And it does the important work of making clear just how badly the deck is stacked against the 99 percent. If getting mad primes you to fight, by all means, read this.”
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The book's basic argument is that the economic elite (the wealthy few) have pushed through policies that benefit themselves at the expense of the vast majority of working Americans. The main areas covered by the book are: The campaign to lower taxes on the rich: (The top rate on the super-wealthy was 92% in the 1950's, but only 35% today). The assault on middle class retirement. (85,000 pension plans have been eliminated since 1985). And, especially, free trade and deregulation, which have allowed companies to ship millions of jobs to low wage countries.
Much of the book is really about unbridled free trade and offshoring and how it has resulted in huge job losses (especially good middle class jobs). The book does a really good job of showing that globalization is not just affecting unskilled and manufacturing jobs, but it is now hitting hard at good jobs in technical areas that require lots of education. For example, in 1990 there were 565,000 computer programming jobs in the U.S, and everyone expected that number to grow. Computers, after all, were the future. However, by 2006 the number of jobs had FALLEN to 435,000, largely because the jobs were being shipped to low wage countries. If today's college graduates, even in technical fields like computer science, are seeing less opportunity, then it seems very hard to be optimistic about the prospects for the next generation. And it seems clear that more education (and more student debt) is not necessarily going to be a solution.
One thing the book doesn't emphasize enough is impact of technology and automation. For example a lot of information technology jobs have been lost to automation and cloud computing; it is not all offshoring. New technologies like 3d printing are sure to reduce the number of manufacturing jobs further, even in low wage countries. As technology advances rapidly in the new few years, it seems probable that the problems faced by the middle class we get even worse, and that will make it even more critical to have new policies that do more to protect average people.
For more on how technology and globalization will affect jobs and incomes, I'd also suggest reading The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, a book that is all about the future economy and job market.
The last forty years of public policy and Wall Street practices have relegated millions of Americans to the scrap heap - reduced 'real' earnings and health benefits, chronic job insecurity, and retirement with fewer and fewer benefits. Since 1985 almost 85,000 pension plans have been killed. Millions more have also lost their jobs and or their homes; over $19 trillion of household wealth was lost in the Great Recession, mostly in the housing market. Many had purchased fearing they would be priced out of the market. The difference between what individuals and corporations pay in taxes has increased from 22% in the 1950s to 62%. Astonishingly, this has all occurred in a democratic nations where the will of the people is supposed to prevail.
Factory jobs have declined by nearly half since 1979 when 21 million workers were employed in that sector. Last year there were only 11.7 million manufacturing jobs; this year has brought Harley-Davidson back into crisis, this time 'resolved' by cutting the work force in half. And now, we're losing service jobs in professional and technical fields. Concerns about jobs lost to other nations were originally minimized by economists as representing nothing more than an economy moving into new areas - turns out those new areas were primarily low-pay service jobs, often taken by illegals.
Middle Americans' options are shrinking. Twenty years ago you could move to find another job if you'd lost one. Now it may take a year to sell one's home (if at all), and the equity in your house may have vanished. CDs and savings don't pay enough to cover a meal at a fast-food restaurant.
Most new jobs created in the U.S. are in low-wage occupations (eg. home health, retail trade), and many are taken by illegals. We've been cutting red tape to help businesses prosper and create new jobs - but instead we got the economic collapse of 2008.
'Free Trade' advocates have told us that too would bring new jobs. Instead, it's brought decades of non-stop trade deficits totaling about $7 trillion, and increasing vulnerability to China working its way up the manufacturing 'food chain.' Apple, America's most profitable company, could easily absorb the increased costs of manufacturing in America, but chooses not to.
Americans need to read this book and wake up.
There's one subtle difference in how these authors describe that influence. Lofgren is a Republican staffer who worked in Congress for 28 years and saw the collusion up-close. He describes government decision-making in harsh terms where politicians knew exactly what they were doing when making these decisions ... that they made conscious calculations in favor of the corporations that would knowingly hurt the middle class. Bartlett & Steele focus more on the economic consequences of more macro decisions. For them, politicians weren't so much calculating as they were optimistic, idealistic and stupid. Their decisions about taxes, free trade, off-shoring, ending pensions, etc. were always wrong, and yet each successive administration put out the same rosy projections and always got played. One can only picture other countries coming back from the negotiating table laughing about the rubes running our country. Either way, it doesn't feel good being represented by politicians who were either on the take or naive.
A unique literary vehicle Bartlett & Steele use is the personal story that shows how specific middle-class individuals and families have been affected by these decisions. So you have bigger-picture discussions about how our government failed the middle class and then examples of how real people suffered as a result. I think it's good they do this to personalize the consequences. Of course, this makes some of their points feel a little like campaign ads but it helps you to compare your own situation, circumstances and personal aspirations to what has happened to others like you. The stories show how close to the edge we may all be if some unexpected disaster suddenly strikes -- not necessarily because of bad luck but because of big decisions made at much higher levels.
These books about inequality are being written because their authors believe that something must be done immediately or it will be impossible to reverse course. The feeling of desperation and betrayal is overpowering because it seems there is no one who can stop corporations and large political contributors from getting exactly what they want. That sense of futility comes across heavy in this book. Is there a conspiracy theory at work here? Not necessarily.
I had a glimpse of the global mentality when I worked for the second largest textile manufacturer in the early 80's. I started working on the manufacturing side of the business, producing video training about such topics as time & materials, using new technology and legally resisting union activities. While workers were seen as a cost of labor, there still seemed to be a shared sense of survival between management and labor. In my second three years with the company I transferred to NYC to work in their marketing group. They were trying desperately to sell their products in innovative ways through direct-mail and in-store kiosks. In my last project I produced a presentation for the CEO to make to a group he had recently joined -- a collection of "captains of industry" from the Fortune 200 in Mobile, AL. Oh to have been a fly on the wall in those meetings as these high-powered individuals discussed their strategies for maintaining their dominance. Two years after that meeting, that textile company was gone after 175 years in business. Despite moving their factories to the South where labor was cheaper ... despite bringing in technology and training their workers to produce high-quality goods cheaper and faster ... despite working with retailers and in joint ventures to save the business, they just couldn't compete with the cheap labor in Asia.
It seems to me that when American manufacturers like that textile manufacturer started losing ground over the last 30-40 years, the government and corporations started to get together and figure out ways to extend our influence. If labor was cheaper overseas, why not use it? It only makes sense that you would collaborate with others to save the business. The problem is that decisions like that have continued for so long now that it's hard to stop making them ... but don't worry, things will work out in the end for everyone. Yeah, right.
Before I read this book, I felt that American corporations really did want to protect the American middle class. I no longer feel that way. As the book points out, multi-national conglomerates now believe they can make just as much money helping the Chinese poor enter their middle class as they can helping ours stay there. I suspect if I went to another such gathering in Mobile, AL today there would be a whole different cast of characters. Not just those American captains of industry but also their off-shore partners and probably a healthy number of senators and congressmen to talk about where to go from here. The 1% is global now ... they've moved on. That's pretty scary for the rest of us.
Anyone who wonders what the heck happened SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. I especially wish the leaders of our country would read it, although I think they know in their heart how they have all betrayed us. They have allowed the huge corporations of this country to decimate the middle class, and leave hopelessness in its wake.
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