The Polarization Threat.

downloadNo, this is not about global warming or the melting of the poles (also a serious threat). Rather this is about the class polarization in the U.S., an equally serious long term threat to our nation. The underlying concern is that we are slowly moving towards a more polarized nation of “haves” and “have-nots” in our country. This has been a glacial movement, not an abrupt one, but I am now old enough to have seen its impact in my lifetime and worry about the future of our country for our children and particularly for our grandchildren.

Some can view me as a hypocrite as I would be considered a “have”. Or you might consider me a bleeding heart liberal. On a philosophical basis, while my politics lean left, I hardly a bleeding heart. I am not a child of privilege, I have worked hard throughout my lifetime and I do resent those that beat the system. However, I do not believe the majority of those who struggle are “lazy and deserve their fate”. There are many hard working people who are struggling and others whose misfortunes are compounded by health issues.

I was fortunate that I grew up in a middle class home. We lived in Newark, NJ and moved to a nearby suburban town, Springfield, NJ, when I was 9. My dad, who passed away in 1967 at age 46, worked an accountant for the IRS having gotten his college degree from Rutgers/Newark in 1956. As a World War II veteran, his college was paid through the GI Bill. It took him 8 years at night to get his degree. We are all a product of our upbringing and growing up in a suburban town which was made up of largely middle class families, I felt that most of the U.S. was constituted that way. Maybe that was directional true in the 50s and 60s, but it is less so today.The bottom line is that I must be getting older I feel the decline of the middle class and now sense a bigger division between those of means and those of poverty. And there is attitudinal data that confirms this drift.

In a recent report by the Pew Research Center/USA Today in response to the statement, Hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people, 38% agreed with this statement as opposed to 28% just 10 years ago.

Conversely 60% or respondents agreed with Most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard. Unfortunately 68% agreed with the same statement 10 years ago. Interestingly while the perceived solutions to the societal issues differ widely based on where one’s politics lean, poor and wealthy answered this question similarly. And also poor and wealthy directionally also agree with the statement The economic system in this country unfavorably favors the wealthy. The gap between respondents with higher ($75k+ household) income at 59% and those of lower (less than $30k) income at 64% was surprisingly small.

What’s the implication of an American system where those less fortunate (and even those of means) feel the American dream is out of reach for many? Envy and if worsening over time. unrest. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times on March 1, The Downside of Inciting Envy, this issue was addressed:

We must recognize that fomenting bitterness over income differences may be powerful politics, but it injures our nation. We need aspirational leaders willing to do the hard work of uniting Americans around an optimistic vision in which anyone can earn his or her success. This will never happen when we vilify the rich or give up on the poor. Only a shared, joyful mission of freedom, opportunity and enterprise for all will cure us of envy and remind us who we truly are.

Our future depends on it.

More Strumings


  1. Stuart Crepea says:

    Agree with your premise which has been well documented over the past year.

    However, the structure of the inequality is not because of any government action, but symtomatic of a new world economy. The reduction and\or the outsourcing of manual labor \ manufacturing. See the Dakota’s have no unemployment \ and huge salaries due to the energy boom there. Yet, the states relying on coal is in depression. Look in Jersey how much manufacturing left the state. Look at Pharma leaving the state. The middle america states had a wonderful middle class life because of the automobile industry and their dominant Unions. See Detroit today. See the rise of the 3rd world in industry, because of outsourcing. How many white collar jobs are there? A google, which is the largest capitalized Company in the US, employes a 10% what a GE or GM would employ. See the tech boom, where are the tellers, when did you go into a bank, wall street is where the internet is, not on wall street. College education, when my brothers went (CCNY and Pace) was a fraction of the 100K 4 year degree today.

    I could go on, as could you. The tetanic plates of the industrial revolution has shifted. The 40’s – 70’s lifestyle is gone. New Paradigm of economy needs to be formulated. Increase unemployment time , minimum wage increases, more monies for social net programs, other liberal big government programs have run their course, and are solutions dated 50 years ago. Not for today.

  2. Ron says:


    There is far more/better leadership in the business world than in the political world.

    The two-party domination of politics in the US is as antiquated as the industrial underpinnings of a middle class economy as referred to in the comment above.

    The two parties are entrenched in such a way that they serve themselves far more than they serve us. Their respective brand of leadership is a mix of finger-pointing and fear-mongering, rather than honest attempts to bridge the divide of opinion and form consensus and compromise.

    So while you point to polarization as occurring based on economic forces, I suggest that’s only part of the story. I see polarization as a strategy of politicians fed by a media eager for ratings.

    I also say shame on colleges and universities for letting their costs spiral at a far higher pace than the rate of inflation – acting like their oligopoly is iron-clad. As much attention as health care costs have received over the last 20+ years, when the level of education factors in economic polarization, the sticker prices of a college education and the redistributive game played in financial aid offices should garner at least as much of our attention (at least those of us who think long-term).

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Great feedback, Ron. I too think the academic world needs a massive revamp. Appreciate your feedback.

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