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Class Economics
Stuck in the Middle

Class Economics
  • An Historical Sketch of the French Revol... (by )
  • The Iliad (by )
  • Collected Stories of William Faulkner (by )
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For decades, economic forecasters have been predicting the demise of America’s middle class. Even as far back as the 90s, the media reported on the emergence of the income gap between rich and poor, and growing inequality.   

Decades later, the Recession of 2008 certainly exasperated the situation. Many working-class Americans grew even more frustrated as wages remained stagnant or declined as unemployment rates escalated. 

In 2011, we saw the rise of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Manhattan’s financial district. The event received worldwide media coverage and sparked a global movement against economic inequality. Spinoffs of the protests debuted in other cities and countries worldwide as many expressed dissatisfaction with the distribution of wealth. 

According to a recent CNN Money article, the top 1% of today’s Americans earn an average of $1.3 million annually. That’s more than three times as much as in the 1980s when they earned an average of $428,000. In 1980, the bottom 50% earned $16,000 on average in pre-tax income. That figure hasn’t changed in more than 30 years.

President Donald Trump’s election campaign aimed to restore jobs for the middle class. Many of Trump’s supporters hoped that his business expertise would translate into a stronger economy. While on the campaign trail, he vowed to keep manufacturing jobs in America. 
Although many supported his efforts and aligned with Trump’s mission, others remained skeptical of his ability to understand the needs of the middle and lower classes. They perceived his wealth and lifestyle as an obstacle, and believed that he was “out of touch” with their realities. Trump’s Cabinet is estimated to be  among the wealthiest in history.

This concept of inequality harkens back to a time of “noblesse oblige”—the moral obligation of those of high birth or powerful social position to act with honor, kindliness, and generosity toward those who were less privileged. The French term, which translates to “nobility obliges” traces its history back to 1830. 
Many literary works have made references to this concept. In William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, Miss Emily Grierson has a controversial romantic interest in Homer Barron—a Northerner and day laborer. The narrator addresses the concept of “noblesse oblige” when expressing difficulty imagining that this Southern lady would dare become romantically involved with a common laborer. 

Another example appeared in Homer’s The Iliad when the prince delivers a “noblesse oblige” speech. He says, “We hold the most honoured seats in Lycia, Glaucus. Ours are the best cuts at the feast; ours the ever-flowing cups. There they think us gods! Ours are the vast estates along the Xanthos, too, the tracts of orchard and the rich plough land. Now we must stand in the front rank and lead the fight, so that the mail-clad Lycians can say: “No cowards, these our Lycian kings. Theirs are the fattest sheep and the finest wines, but theirs the greatest courage too, who fight in the vanguard.”

Read more about times of historical inequality in An Historical Sketch of the French Revolution located on our website.

By Regina Molaro

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