Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class

I read Thom Hartmann’s book “Screwed:  Undeclared War Against the Middle Class”.  You can view other reviews by New Your Magazine and an opinion piece by the author on AlterNet.

Here are the memorable points I came away with:

  • There can be a democracy if-and-only-if a middle class is assured ‘living wage’ resulting in job security, a house, health insurance.
  • The elite and rich actively subdue the would-be middle class
  • Corporations are the Thom Hartmann boogie man. They take advantage of the middle class and strive to take over a would-be democratic government.
  • America was founded by the middle class, and all us middle class must rise up and take back our government.
  • All the hurt people don’t make a “living wage”.  They’re barely able to survive and pay the bills. That presumes obligations are required of everyone; I sensed no recognition that the bills to pay are largely wrought by the individual.  I would argue only lightly against his claim “The 80-hr workweek is now the norm”.  However, he doesn’t finish the sentence: “The 80-hr work week is now the norm … to satisfy all the desires we have been trained to want.”
  • Unions are good because they are a democratic institution.  Compare this with the Federal legal case just brought against Boeing because they’re building their next assembly plant in Louisiana that allows unions, instead of Washington state that *requires* employees to be union.
  • Pooling risk to buy insurance is accepted by society (private corporations’ profit), so it’s disingenuous for corporations to argue against pooling risk and have the government pay for it.

Below are some more thoughts from the book –

American founders were middle class because their estates were smaller than contemporary British landed gentry estates.  I wonder if it had anything to do with the short history of the American settlements?

Progressive taxes.  Thomas Payne. Beer taxes are a case study of why consumption taxes are bad, and estate or progressive income taxes are better. In Europe, this beer tax was not equal because they taxed the poor workers.  The rich had their own vineyards and made their own beer, so paid no consumption tax.

Thomas Payne. Rights of Man. Argued against “contract between the people and government” as a natural state of affairs. because in some old time there was no government. Therefore, people contract with each other to create a government.   Okay, what is our contract?  You take the money I earn; what do you give in return? A contract has consensual duality; unilateral mandate is extortion.

Thomas Jeffersonon progressive taxes. Jefferson was quoted promoting a way of holding in check large land owners, advocating taxing in geometric proportion to size of the land holding.  Hartmann says this means “in proportion to size of the land holding”, but is mathematically wrong when he claims “proportional to” means progressive tax.  Specifically, proportional means when the rate does not change, only the amount. Then, he summarizes by saying Jefferson supporting taxing people on “what they can pay”.

This sounds like Social Security means testing where I would pay into it my whole life, forego life pleasures to privately save,and then get nothing out of SS because I’m too rich.)  Hartmann 100% neglects the reality that how a person lives now SHOULD affects how they live later.

Common Grounds.  The money you earn is not yours.  If you take a bite out of the candy bar in a store, the dollar in your pocket now belongs to the store.  In the same way, if you breath clean air in America by being born here, the money in your pocket is obligated to the government for having ensured your clean air. This line of thought has two problems:

  • someone else is deciding what I will and won’t bite into, and
  • it’s more analogous to a mafia protection racket where my life was just fine before you showed up, but now I am told the “benefits of protection” and informed I will purchase the service. I don’t like what you’re doing with my money. Collecting the money gives you power I would never choose to voluntarily give up. Ask yourself why Mafia protection rackets were illegal, and then compare to the candy bar scenario.

Why did income taxes come only 120 years after the beginning of our nation, if our founders’ intent was consistent with it?  Here’s my idea of taxation constitutional reasons, or “common good”:  If the destination of the tax money has a name (Bob, Sue, Janet), then it’s NOT for the common good. Benevolence is good, but becomes a tainted activity if you reach into my pocket to take money and then give it away in your name.

Mr. Hartmann is negligent about power. Right democratic power is when each individual controls their finances.  Wrong democratic power is when any large organization (corporation or government) collects finances and therefore power.  In his mind, it’s all about economics and how much money and free stuff you acquire to have a ‘good life’ and be guaranteed a ‘living wage’.  He would centralize nearly all of your life into the government because they give good life and corporations give bad life.

In my opinion, the start of this nation wasn’t about economy; it was about freedom and control (keep your life, have some liberty=freedom, PURSUIT of happiness).  I’m left with a clear understanding that Mr. Hartmann is concerned about “elites and corporatocracies” having too much power.   I don’t want to argue many of his points.  I just don’t think shifting the power to “big government” is any better.  Instead of convincing me that corporate is wrong, please convince me that government is better.

Mr. Hartmann and Mr. Obama believe in full coverage by the government.  Some selfish CEO (or the aggregate behavior of the beauracracy she also is trapped in) believes in corporatocracy.  I believe in the full dynamic range of “we the people”. None of these are the same.

About Brian

Engineer. Aviator. Educator. Scientist.
This entry was posted in Finance and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class

  1. “The elite and rich actively subdue the would-be middle class” … I’m not sure this is literally true – but it’s hard to deny most really do not give a crap.

    “Corporations … strive to take over a would-be democratic government.” Considering the leveraged power of Lobbying, it’s hard to deny this too.

    “f you breath clean air in America by being born here, the money in your pocket is obligated to the government for having ensured your clean air.” It is fair to say the gov’mint is usually guilty of ‘unintended consequences’. It is also a fair argument to say of those polluting … didn’t … that is they took the fabled personal responsibility route .. then gov’mint intervention would not be needed. As but a small sampling, keep in mind the movies “Erin Brockovich” and “A Civil Action” were based on real events.

  2. Brian says:


    I was surprised that the book took a position that the elite and rich are intentional about what they’re doing to the middle class. Not just intentional, but intentional to exploit and hold down the middle class, believing that a wider spread in wealth is the appropriate end game.

    I think I follow your third paragraph, although I’m not sure what you mean by a government following a “personal responsibility route”. I think there is a relationship between the government and a corporation that requires responsibility and some oversight. However, I was thinking about a different relationship as I wrote the words in the original post.

    The author’s paradigm that raised my concern was his description of the relationship between the government and the people. He described a situation where I am obligated to pay the government for clean air just as if I had eaten half of a candy bar from a store. If allowed to continue, that paradigm could mean I owe the government for every desirable thing in my life. Notice, this paradigm IS coming out in ObamaCare. Again, doing nothing more than being born and life, I am now being obligated to purchase health care program mandated by the government. My thought: being born here shouldn’t obligate me to pay or serve the government. The government exists to serve me. Part of that service may include relationships with corporations. However, constitutionally, I am more interested in getting the relationship between government and me correct.

  3. Brian says:

    The Summer 2011 TED Conference opened with some interesting speakers.

    Epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson presented a raft of data showing how social ills — including homicide, mental illness and limited social mobility — are much higher in countries with stark levels of income inequality. “If Americans want to live the American dream,” Wilkinson said, “they should move to Denmark.”

    This could explain a lot of conflict in the world these days. Pushing everybody into the norm (minimizing standard deviation) is seen as a good thing.

Leave a Reply