America's Vanishing Middle Class: A Tale of Two Economies
The US economy today borders on schizophrenic. To be sure, we are seeing signs of positive momentum. The last three months have delivered almost 250,000 new jobs per month on average. Great news, but at the same time, unemployment is growing and now exceeds nine percent. Both consumer confidence and small business confidence is higher than where they were last year. But confidence has been falling rapidly for the past few months.
Were Charles Dickens to show up as a commentator on the evening news, he would have a ready vocabulary to describe our current economic situation: This recovery is very much A Tale of Two Cities. After years of record low interest rates, multiple stimulus packages, and the expansion of tax cuts and credits, we are in the midst of a very real recovery, but it is a recovery characterized by asymmetry. Banks and major corporations are flush with capital — large businesses are recording record profits — but job growth is tepid, unemployment remains high and small businesses are struggling.
At first glance, the combination of record corporate profits alongside anemic job growth seems contrary, but the two are directly connected. The primary reason corporate profits are at record highs is that large companies learned to be lean and highly productive during the worst years of the recession. The profits generated through a reduced but more productive headcount has induced many large companies to continue this lean approach even as we emerge from recession. The result: record profits despite weak revenue growth, which leads to a lack of hiring.
The job growth problem is even more nuanced than that. It turns out that the hiring we are seeing is at the extreme ends of the spectrum. To ensure strong profits, corporations are cutting out the middle layers of management — the middle-class. In their place, they are hiring at the very low end and promoting at the high end. Senior management compensation is up nearly 25% this year ($9M for the average S&P 500 CEO), to levels higher than in pre-recession days, according to executive compensation research firm Equilar.
On the other side, we have job growth coming in at the bottom of the pyramid, mostly minimum wage and temporary positions. Take last month’s job creation, for example. Out of the 260,000 jobs created in April, a whopping 60,000 jobs came from one company: McDonald’s. There is nothing wrong with flipping burgers for a living, but it will not pull us out of a recession.
Meanwhile, middle-class jobs are declining at an alarming rate. Middle income jobs have been falling rapidly for some time and now represent well less than half of all jobs in the US. New numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that these middle income jobs have been replaced by low-income jobs. This has left 17 million college-educated Americans with jobs well below their educational levels. If the middle-class are filling the jobs available for the less educated, then the poorest Americans will largely be left jobless. The question we need to start asking is not “how do we add jobs to the economy?”; rather, it is “how do we create middle-class jobs to rebuild our economy?”
Without middle-class jobs, our society will enter into a “Stagnant Age” of two classes: rich and poor. And with two-thirds of our GDP coming from consumer spending — and most of that coming from the middle-class — we will be left with a shrinking economy.
Jeffrey M. Stibel is Chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. He is an entrepreneur, a brain scientist, and the author of Wired for Thought: How the Brain Is Shaping the Future of the Internet.
Ten Commandments: Basis for American Law? Comparing American Law with the Ten Commandments
One of the arguments most frequently offered for the creation of Ten Commandments plaques, monuments, or displays on government property is that they are the foundation of American (or Western) law. Having the Ten Commandments displayed is thus supposed to be a way of acknowledging the roots of our laws and our government. But is this really valid?
It is difficult to make any sort of case for the idea that the Ten Commandments, taken as a whole, really constitute the basis for American law. It’s obvious that some of the Commandments forbid actions that are also forbidden in American law, but then again the same parallels can be found in laws throughout the world. Are the Ten Commandments the basis for Chinese law, merely because murder and theft are forbidden in China?
Perhaps the problems with this claim will become more clear if we take the Commandments individually and ask where in American law they are expressed. We’ll use a pseudo-Protestant version of the Commandments which is similar to the most popular listings found in public displays.
Ten Commandments and the Origins of Law
One possible interpretation of the claim that the Ten Commandments are the basis for American law is that “the law,” as an abstract notion, has its origins outside of humanity. Laws are ultimately based upon commands stemming from God and are binding upon all people — including kings, aristocrats, and other “higher” members of society.
Of course, it is obvious that this is a theological proposition. There is nothing the least bit secular about this and the government has no authority to endorse such a view. It is even arguably a sectarian theological proposition because it singles out the Ten Commandments for special treatment as coming from “outside humanity,” a position which traditional Jews would not accept because they regard the entire Torah has having divine origins. If this is what people mean when they say that the Ten Commandments are the basis for American law, then it’s an invalid reason for posting the commandments on government property.
Ten Commandments and Moral Law
Another way of interpreting this position is to see the Ten Commandments as a “moral” basis for the general legal order of the West. In this interpretation the Ten Commandments are treated as moral principles dictated by God and serving as the ethical foundation for all laws, even if they can’t be traced directly back to any specific commandment. Thus, while most individual laws in America don’t derive directly from the Ten Commandments, “the law” as a whole does and this deserves recognition.
This, too, is a theological proposition which the American government has no authority endorsing or supporting. It may be true or it may not, but it’s not a subject on which the government can take sides. If this is what people man when they say that the Ten Commandments are the basis for American law, then posting them on government property is still invalid. The only way to argue that “they are the basis for American law” is a reason for posting the Ten Commandments on government property is if there is a non-religious connection between the two — preferably a legal connection.
We’ve considered what it might mean to say that American law is based on the Ten Commandments; here, we will look at each commandment to see if any are reflected in any way in American law.
1. Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Beside Me: There definitely aren’t any laws that forbid the worship of all but one god, much less the specific god of the ancient Hebrews. In fact, American law in general is silent on the existence of gods. Christians have inserted references to their God in various places, for example the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Motto, but for the most part the law doesn’t insist that any gods exist - and who would want that to change?
2. Thou Shalt Not Worship Any Graven Images: This Commandment has the same basic legal problems as the first. There is nothing in American law that even hints at the idea that there is something wrong with worshipping “graven images.” If such a law existed it would infringe upon the religious liberties of those whose religions include “graven images” — which, according to some, would include Catholics and many other Christian denominations.
3. Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord Thy God in Vain: As with the first two Commandments, this is a purely religious requirement that is not expressed in American law anymore. There was a time when blasphemy was punished. If it were still possible to prosecute people for blasphemy (a common, but not necessarily accurate, interpretation of this Commandment), it would be an infringement on religious liberty.
4. Remember the Sabbath Day to Rest and Keep it Holy: There was a time in America when the laws mandated that shops close on the Christian sabbath and people attend church. The latter provisions fell away first and, over time, the former began to disappear as well. Today it is difficult to find laws that enforce any sort of “sabbath rest” and none that enforce keeping a sabbath “holy.” The reasons are obvious: this is a religious matter which the government has no authority over.
5. Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother: This is a Commandment that is a good idea in principle, but to which many good exceptions can be found and which is completely impractical as a law. Not only are there no laws specifically designed to require this, it would be difficult to find any laws that express it as a principle even some remote sense. A person who curses, ignores, or says bad things about their parents breaks no laws.
6. Thou Shalt Not Murder: Finally, a Commandment that forbids something that is also forbidden in American law — and we only had to go through half of the Commandments to get to this point! Unfortunately for Ten Commandments advocates, this is also something forbidden in every known culture on the planet. Are all of these laws based upon the Sixth Commandment?
7. Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery: Once upon a time, adultery was illegal and could be punished by the state. Today that is no longer the case. The absence of laws prohibiting adultery prevents anyone from arguing that current American law is in any way based upon the Seventh Commandment. Unlike other such Commandments, though, it would be possible to change the laws to reflect this one. The question to supporters of the Ten Commandments, then, is this: do they openly advocate the criminalization of adultery and, if not, how does that square with their insistence that the Ten Commandments be endorsed, promoted, and displayed by the state?
8. Thou Shalt Not Steal: Here we come across just the second of ten Commandments that forbids something also forbidden in American law — and, as with the Sixth, this is also something forbidden in all other cultures as well, including those that predate the Ten Commandments. Are all laws against theft based upon the Eighth Commandment?
9. Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness: Whether this Commandment has any parallels in American laws depends upon how one interprets it. If this is simply a prohibition against lying in general, then it is not expressed in American law. If, however, this is a prohibition against lying in the course of court testimony, then it is true that American law also forbids this. Then again, so do other cultures.
10. Thou Shalt Not Covet Anything That is Thy Neighbor’s: As with honoring one’s parents, a command to refrain from coveting may be a reasonable principle (depending upon how it is applied) but that doesn’t mean that it is something that can or should be enforced by the law. There is nothing in American law that even comes close to forbidding coveting.
Conclusion: Of the ten Commandments, only three have any parallels in American law, so if anyone wanted to argue that the Commandments are somehow the “basis” for our laws, these are the only three they have to work with. Unfortunately, similar parallels exist with every other culture and it’s not reasonable to say that the Ten Commandments are the basis for all laws. There is simply no reason to think that the people crafting American or British law sat down and prohibited theft or murder merely because the Ten Commandments already did so.
A couple of the Commandments forbid things which were at one point forbidden in American law, but are not anymore. If the Commandments were the basis for those laws, they aren’t the basis for current laws, and this means that the rationale for displaying them is gone. Finally, it must be kept in mind that constitutional protections of religious liberty are written in a manner that are practically designed to break several Commandments. Thus, far from reflecting the Ten Commandments, it is arguable that the principles of American law are set up to break several of them and ignore most of the rest.
"A God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell—mouths mercy, and invented hell—mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!"
‘Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in
or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.’
The dog said: ‘That’s a long time to be barking. How about only ten
years and I’ll give you back the other ten?’
So God agreed.
On the second day, God created the monkey and said:
‘Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I’ll give
you a twenty-year life span.’
The monkey said: ‘Monkey tricks for twenty years?
That’s a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like
the Dog did?’
And God agreed.
On the third day, God created the cow and said:
‘You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer
under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s
family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.’
The cow said: ‘That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for
sixty years. How about twenty and I’ll give back the other forty?’
And God agreed again.
On the fourth day, God created man and said:
‘Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I’ll give you
But man said: ‘Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my
twenty,the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and
the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?’
‘Okay,’ said God, ‘You asked for it.’
So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy
ourselves. For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our
family. For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the
grandchildren. And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and
bark at everyone.
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”—Aldous Huxley
1. Unhappiness at work.
You spend nearly half of your life at your job. If you are unhappy, do you really want to give away that much of your life? Think of the impact it has on your emotional well-being, your health, and your relationships. Think of the opportunities missed for doing something that you love, that is fulfilling. Don’t settle for living this way forever. Find a job that you love. Get more education if necessary. At the least, make changes within your current job to lessen your unhappiness.
2. A Long Commute.
A long commute to work by car or public transportation is stressful and empty. Hours in a vehicle adds up to days, months, years wasted in traveling when you could be doing and living. Find a job closer to home, or move closer to your job. Whatever your reason is for this commute, is it really worth the lost time?
3. An Unhealthy Lifestyle.
Are you overweight? Do you smoke? Are you sedentary? Do you eat junk? Do you abuse alcohol or other substances? An unhealthy lifestyle leads to an unhappy life. If you feel bad and look bad, you can’t enjoy life. This is your one and only life, and your body is your sacred garment. Take care of it now.
4. Draining Relationships.
If there are people in your life who are abusive, demeaning, angry, hurtful, not supportive, unethical, or crazy, it is time to let them go. You may have your reasons for hanging on, but do these reasons really outweigh the negative impact they have on your life? At the very least, find ways to cut back on interactions with these people.
5. A Disordered Living Space.
How you live is a reflection of who you are. You don’t need to live in a mansion with lots of stuff, but your living space should reflect the joy, order, and peace you want in your life. It should be clean, orderly, and have some expressions of beauty and warmth. It should feel welcoming to you and to guests in your home.
It is around us all the time, invading our minds like termites. We hear and see negative ideas and images on the news. Our friends and associates share their negative stories or reactions to life events. We hear negative lyrics in songs or watch violence and abuse in movies or on TV. Before we know it, we feel negative and depressed about our lives. Turn it off. Walk away. Stop listening. Instead watch, read, and listen to uplifting and positive ideas and information.
7. Too Much Stuff.
Over the years, we accumulate. We like to buy things. We like to have things. But these things require our time, energy, money, and effort. They lose their shine and we lose our interest. They become a burden — something we have to dust rather than enjoy. Get rid of this stuff and free up time and energy in your life.
8. Financial Problems.
The stress and emotional pain caused by financial problems steals your joy and peace in life. Whatever you are doing now or did in the past to cause the problem, do something about it now. Yes, some financial difficulties are unavoidable, but do whatever you can to lessen the stress, even if it means delivering pizzas for a while. If you are over-spending, stop. Sell some things. Very few “things” are worth the stress of money worries.
9. Living Out of Your Integrity.
Are you living in alignment with your values? Are you being true to yourself? Do you need to apologize for something or ask for forgiveness? When you are living outside of your integrity, it causes a disruption in your soul and your psyche. It drains your energy, fosters guilt, and saps your self-esteem. Get right with yourself and with others.
10. Living Without Fun.
If you life is all duty and work (even if the work is enjoyable), you are living out-of-balance. Fun and relaxation are necessary ingredients for a full and joyful life. By removing some of the other stresses from your life, you can make room for pleasurable activities, travel, and entertainment. The world is your beautiful oyster meant to be enjoyed.
11. Accepting Ignorance and Inertia.
We use both of these as excuses not to do something. We talk ourselves into our own inability to accomplish or change because we are afraid. We are afraid it will be hard, we are afraid we might fail, we are afraid it won’t work. You and everyone else knows these are just excuses to avoid. Don’t accept them anymore. Stretch yourself.
12. Lack of Communication.
In every single relationship you have, especially your primary relationship, healthy communication is essential to your life happiness. We you aren’t communicating properly with someone, you feel anxious, angry, frustrated, and helpless. Open, honest, loving communication is the number one ingredient for successful relationships. If you don’t know how to communicate in a healthy way, then learn how to and begin to implement these skills.
“I believe that an orderly universe, one indifferent to human preoccupations, in which everything has an explanation even if we still have a long way to go before we find it, is a more beautiful, more wonderful place than a universe tricked out with capricious ad hoc magic.”—Richard Dawkins