A Facebook conversation prompted by a comment from the State of the Union speech, “Middle class economics works,” caught my attention. Some in the conversation harked back to the 50’s and credited union shops and manufacturing jobs and increased spending for the rise of the Middle Class.
To start with people had a different mindset. They were willing to work hard at whatever they did and exercised discipline in their spending. Union or non-union, manufacturing, or agriculture; those who I remember from my parents’ generation worked hard–at anything and everything they could. They worked free to gain experience. They worked for little-to-nothing. They worked at whatever was right in-front of them. They worked from the time they woke-up until they sat-down at the end of the day. They began working when they were children and worked for as long as they were healthy. They saw taking money for doing nothing as a sign of laziness. They saw taking money from those less able than themselves as immoral.
The money they hard-earned, which gave it value and respect to know they did that. They did not spend their hard-earned dollars on frivolous things like closets full of clothes or dinner out, let alone a $5 coffee. They saved for their future.
They knew that education was a path for their children to improve themselves and live better, so they told them it was their responsibility to work at learning in spite of whatever difficulties life put in their way.
They worked to help their neighbors and friends in need. “Social Justice” was what you worked on in your spare time in the charitable volunteer organizations of your choice. From this charitable work they did everything from feeding the poor to building hospitals.
As a result of all this work, discipline, and personal responsibility the middle class expanded.
If they could comment on our economy today, they would say that the problem is not too many people working at Wal-Mart; it is too many people not willing work. Too many not willing to work hard to gain experience. Un-willing to work hard to improve their employer’s business. Unwilling to work hard to improve whatever is right in front of them. They might even tell us that ultimately middle class economics works when men and women understand that work is not a four letter word. The path to upward mobility is rightly harder than we believe imagine. We must exercise discipline in our spending and solve societal issues with personal responsibility with volunteerism and personal charity.
When President Kennedy spoke he was amplifying the viewpoint of the generation he grew up in.
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
~ Lorraine Newman