US Has Regressed To Developing Nation Status, MIT Economist Warns

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Above Photo: Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Skid Row has LA’s largest concentration of homeless people who regularly camp on the sidewalks in tents and cardboard boxes ( Getty Images )

Peter Temin says 80 percent of the population is burdened with debt and anxious about job security

America is regressing to have the economic and political structure of a developing nation, an MIT economist has warned.

Peter Temin says the world’s’ largest economy has roads and bridges that look more like those in Thailand and Venezuela than those in parts of Europe.

In his new book, “The Vanishing Middle Class”, reviewed by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Mr Temin says the fracture of US society is leading the middle class to disappear.

The economist describes a two-track economy with on the one hand 20 percent of the population that is educated and enjoys good jobs and supportive social networks.

On the other hand, the remaining 80 percent, he said, are part of the US’ low-wage sector, where the world of possibility has shrunk and people are burdened with debts and anxious about job security.

Mr Temin used a model, which was created by Nobel Prize winner Arthur Lewis and designed to understand developing nations, to describe how far inequalities have progressed in the US.

When applied to the US, Mr Temin said that “the Lewis model actually works”.

Homeless men try to stay warm in a Manhattan church on an unseasonably cold day in New York City (Getty Images)

He found that much of the low-wage sector had little influence over public policy, the high-income sector was keeping wages down to provide cheap labour, social control was used to prevent subsistence workers from challenging existing policies and social mobility was low.

Mr Temin also claims that this dual-economy has a “racist” undertone.

“The desire to preserve the inferior status of blacks has motivated policies against all members of the low-wage sector.

“We have a structure that predetermines winners and losers. We are not getting the benefits of all the people who could contribute to the growth of the economy, to advances in medicine or science which could improve the quality of life for everyone — including some of the rich people,” he writes.

Commenting on Mr Temin’s findings, Lynn Parramore, senior research analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, writes: “Without a robust middle class, America is not only reverting to developing-country status, it is increasingly ripe for serious social turmoil that has not been seen in generations.”

Female jail inmates are chained together as they bury cadavers at Maricopa County’s pauper’s graveyard in Phoenix, Arizona (Joe Raedle/Liaison)

Mr Temin says that education is the solution to offer everyone in society better opportunities and calls for investments in public schools and public universities.

He says: “Knowing how to think, how to get on with people, how to cooperate. All the social skills and social capital … [are] going to be critically important for kids in this environment.”

  • mwildfire

    This is perfectly clear to the one percent, and we are in this hole because their efforts to maintain control and keep most of the wealth flowing to themselves have been resoundingly successful. So, given the increasing problems flowing from this situation, why don’t they do something to ameliorate it before we come after them with pitchforks or hang them from lampposts? Two reasons I see. oOe is that the pain their policies cause is not very visible to them. They’ve read the statistics about deaths and bankruptcies caused by our horrible mess of a healthcare system–but they don’t know anyone who doesn’t have excellent health insurance. They don’t know anyone whose son, arrested for pot or more serious drugs, can’t be quietly let off with an expunged record thanks to Daddy’s influence. They’ve seen the problems from climate change and fossil fuel pollution but it’s all far away, happening to people they don’t know. Barely real.
    The other reason is that policies to ameliorate the problems would cost them money or power, and while they can easily afford it, thing is, money is itself a seriously addictive drug. In the 80’s, many of my neighbors made a living growing pot. It was illegal, of course, which was why it was profitable. But that also made it dangerous, and many of them were eventually busted. They would say: “We are going to quit this, after this year. We need the money from one more year, for XYZ.” Then next year they’d say–“ONE more year…” I imagine the super-rich are like that too. They know they ought to quit and behave responsibly, but as long as the money’s rolling in, and their Forbes 400 ranking is rising, they can’t do it THIS year…