Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Someplace Like America by Dale Maharidge

Dale Maharidge and photographer Michael Williamson have chronicled for 40 years the demise of the American middle class. Their previous books, Journey to Nowhere, And Their Children after Them, The Last American Hobo, and Homeland are extensively excerpted into this book and several lives are followed from decade to decade. My main criticism is that too much of the book is exerpted from previous books. Since I had not read the previous books, I found it of interest but it a condensed version from the previous books could have provided the necessary background.

Many of the lives presented are just flat depressing. Not everyone is a sympathetic character. Some people are solid, salt of the earth people who have had circumstances beyond their control push them out of their middle class lives into situations that they never imagined could happen to them. Others have drug, alcohol, mental illness problems for which there was no safety net for them.

While the first 3/4 of this book is fairly interesting, the final quarter is outstanding. This is the portion of the book that brings us up to date to the current Great Receession with its jobless recovery, compares it with the social, political, and economic situations of the Great Depression of the 1930's.

Maharidge postulates that we are essentially relearning the lessons of the 1930's. We are also reliving a version of its political and economic battles, as well as fighting new ones. For example, the concentration of wealth at the very top:
In 1928, 23.9 % of the national wealth went to the upper 1%.
In the 1970's between 8 and 9% of the national wealth went to the upper 1%
In 1982, 12.8%
1988, 16.6%
2007, 23.5%

A second example is the rate of unemployment: In 2010, 37% of individuals between 18 and 29 are jobless. Almost exactly what it was in the 1930's.

There are other example of the similarities of the two economic tsunamis such as the turn to right wing extremists such as radio personalities as Father Coughlin of the 30's and the Glen Beck /Rush Limbaughs of today.

To me, the best part of the book was the "What do we do now?" section.

First is taking personal responsibility-- people must realize that no one and no government entity is coming to rescue them. The people in this section are forming their own small communities, raising gardens, canning and preserving food, raising poultry and small animals, shopping for needed items at thrift stores, staying way low on the economic radar.

Second is the area of Government responsibility
1. Fair tax rates for rich and poor
2. Jobs programs such as CCC
3. Cut military interventions and spending

It is an excellent book and deserves to be widely read and discussed.


Hattie said...

The problem as I see it and when talking to people is that while micro-solutions can help individuals, we need programs to bring everyone into the economic system. We have gone a long way into ideologies of self help and so on, and these are good, but they do not produce the kind of social solidarity and large scale reform we need.

Florence said...

I couldn't agree with you more!! One of the most interesting stories in the book was the author's uncle who worked in the CCC and learned skills that he used the rest of his life in highway construction.