What in the world: Is liberal elitism killing the middle class?

Actor Matt Damon receives an award at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on 21 January, 2014. Middle-class problems don't get discussed by the likes of Matt Damon in Davos, writes Anand Giridharadas

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

We present two big-picture columns on the challenges facing the middle class in the US, which appears mired in an economic slump while those at the top prosper.

The middle class's problems come from the elitism of the nation's liberal leaders, writes the Washington Examiner's Michael Barone in his review of Fred Siegel's new book, The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class.

Contrary to popular belief, Barone argues, liberalism was not founded on supporting an increasing role of government in daily life to help the "working-class striver". Instead its defining principles have been a "contempt for ordinary Americans" and an attempt to preserve the privileges of those at the top with the support of those at the bottom.

For evidence of this, he contends, one need only look at President Obama's stimulus package, which propped up big banks, and health care reform, which he says helps the poor at the expense of the middle class.

Anand Giridharadas of the New York Times also thinks the middle class is being ignored - but it's not liberal elitism to blame so much as the mundaneness of everyday American problems.

Americans love to solve the "Big Problems", he argues, such as cutting-edge innovation and overcoming the challenges of abject poverty. Those caught in between, however - "an American single mother and waitress, or a flailing veteran, or a laid-off car worker" - are invisible.

Middle-class challenges don't "get 'discussed' at Davos" during the World Economic Forum meetings, he writes. Innovations from the "thriving set" don't translate into jobs for the "struggling set".

Both authors make similar points, really - a group of privileged Americans (liberal gentry, according to Barone; innovators, according to Giridharadas) are succeeding while large numbers of their fellow countrymen languish.

Giridharadas sees three possible outcomes for the current situation: the have/have-not split continues, the "rot in hollowed-out America slowly infects and overwhelms the dynamic one" or "the thriving America decides to make the ailing country down the block its problem, too".

So we've got that to look forward to.


The US is committed to regional prosperity and security - US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker write in the Wall Street Journal that the US is striving to "promote greater security and prosperity" in the region. They identify three areas of focus: the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, disaster relief, and preparedness efforts and joint military efforts with allies.


Hijacked reform - Islamic extremism has made it difficult for Bahrain to enact any meaningful political and economic reforms, writes Bahraini commentator Sarah Bin Ashoor in the New York Times. Until Shiite parties in the nation embrace democracy, Bahrain will be unable to develop into a modern, pluralistic nation, she concludes.


John Kerry's visit a reflection of new international standing - Indonesia is taking a more prominent role in South-east Asia's economics and politics, writes Dharmawan Ronodipuro in the Jakarta Post, and this was reflected in US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Jakarta on Sunday. "What Indonesia's leaders say and do in the years ahead will matter more than perhaps at any other time in our history," he writes. "We have the ability to become a vital mediator and bridge between the many competing interests in the region."

European Union

A Swiss warning on immigration - The recent referendum in Switzerland imposing new restrictions on immigration is an indication that right-wing, nationalist parties are gaining strength throughout the EU, writes syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan. May elections for the European Parliament could give anti-immigration forces more strength and fatally cripple the EU - and have repercussions for the immigration debate in the US.


Prostitution crackdown will fail - In 2011 prostitution was an estimated $8bn (£ 4.8bn) industry in the Chinese city of Dongguan. Because sex work is so deeply ingrained in the Chinese economy, writes Bloomberg View's Adam Minter, recent attempts to enforce anti-prostitution laws with limited manpower will end in failure, "driving the sex trade a bit further underground". He concludes that legalisation is the "obvious alternative", but it won't be easy.


The US underestimates its power - Iran is a "beleaguered middling power that may still be coerced into more expansive concessions" in the upcoming nuclear talks in Vienna, writes the Council of Foreign Relations's Ray Takeyh. The Iranian leaders are more afraid of losing their grip on power than they are on holding onto their nuclear weapons programme, he writes, which means that the threat of further US sanctions can be very powerful during negotiations. The US should not forget that it has the stronger hand when sitting down at the table with Iran, he concludes.

North Korea

Kim Jong Un's regime like Nazi Germany - A recently released report by the UN's Human Rights Council details "unspeakable atrocities" that the North Korean government is committing against its own people. On Monday former UK Ambassador to North Korea John Everard told BBC Newsnight that the report "makes harrowing reading", but it could have little impact if China decides to block action in the UN. Eventually change will come to North Korea, he says, but "it's probably going to be messy, and I have a sinking feeling that a lot of people are going to get hurt".

BBC Monitoring's quote of the day

Controversy over a disallowed Russian goal in the US-Russia Olympic hockey match: "The whole world knows that American TV companies have monopolized Olympic broadcasts and in order to please the fans in their country they do everything they can to keep American viewers interested in what is going on at the hockey rink in Sochi. According to their logic, Americans should always win, no matter what. It was absolutely obvious that [Fyodor] Tyutin's goal yesterday should have been allowed. This was clear to the whole world except the American referee, American TV and those officials with American passports who rule international hockey, grossly neglecting all Olympic principles." - Ivan Ilyin and Sergey Sokolskiy in Russian state-owned daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta

One more thing…

Living with old age - Roger Angell writes in the New Yorker about trials and tribulations of life in his 90s - from watching all of your contemporaries, including those you love, pass away and the constant reminders of a body slowly wearing down over time.

"Living long means enough already," he writes.

His sense of optimism endures, however, as he continues to enjoy the world around him.

"I've endured a few knocks but missed worse," he writes. "I know how lucky I am, and secretly tap wood, greet the day, and grab a sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds. The pains and insults are bearable."

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at) bbc.co.uk.



This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    "Giridharadas sees three possible outcomes for the current situation: the have/have-not split continues..."

    Good luck!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    23. Interesting that company health insurance is one of the major factors in controlling dissent and mobility in the US (families are enslaved by a for-profit health care system). And when you hit 65 the insurance companies dump you onto Medicare, pocket whatever was not used of your premiums and laugh all the way to the bank. Payments into NHS systems go to improve the total service for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Meltdown Sign of the Times

    There are Anti-Government riots and protests breaking out all over the world in Ukraine, Venezuela, Brazil, Egypt, Thailand, Syria, Bosnia, Tunisia, Greece, plus heaps more..

    Austerity, poverty, unemployment has come blowing through your door
    you know there is trouble and there's going to be a ton load more

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The World is a Ghetto

    Great leveler: whites are like blacks now & buck up on a hard times

    Global Recession is a market excuse to dump staff into redundancy

    Jobs aren't around in general & wages offered are peanuts

    Work was outsourced to far east on the sly and will never return locally

    Fight for your rights
    Fight against Government
    Fight against Wars
    Never fight for Government Wars / Lies

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Goverment's and Corporations are shortchanging y'all, indulging in illegal wars, spying on people removing rights and freedoms. They are not serving public, customers or employees they are robbing y'all and treating y'all like scum. Raise formal complaints against Government Services and Companies. Fight for your rights instead of being walked over. American dream is a figment of brainwashed mind

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    19 Companies & Governments show contempt for ordinary tax paying people. Employees are overworked & underpaid & Companies have no loyalty for any of them although they carry the IIP logo Investors in People.Mugs thought American people have rights in American Companies who outsourced labour to Asia, UK Companies followed forthwith. Don't bother talking high & mighty you're shafted by bosses not me

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Schrödingers cat: I agree with the larger point that the US middle class will inevitably need to become entrepreneurs. The only democratically run companies are co-ops, which are ruthlessly targeted by oligarchic companies. You need money (and connections, skills, and luck) to make money. Next time, make your point without showing contempt for ordinary people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Real Deal in Babywrong
    Get Wise
    Stop Wasting Time / Your Life
    Middle Class are wage slaves working for someone else, and will get used and dumped on the scrap heap when old. People have to stop living from pay check to pay check and should set up own businesses to make big money for themselves instead of someone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    13. Clinton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidency_of_Bill_Clinton Bill erred scrapping the Glass Steagal Act, driven by Newt Gingrich and the House: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Revolution which led to the financial meltdown of 2007/8: Bush Jr's sub prime scam. Clinton's China trade deal was passed by the Republicans: Wal-Mart the winner! Americans got what they wanted: cheap stuff!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    7) The stimulus package was originally signed by GWB.
    8) Iraq was pointless. Cost us trillions. Was paid for by debt.
    9) Because of conservative interference, Americans don't have:
    a) NHS
    b) Sane gun-control
    c) Free college education
    d) Wages indexed with inflation
    e) Weakening science education
    f) Weakening environmental laws
    g) No int'l agreement on climate change

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    As a middle-class American, I can't understand how someone would complain about not receiving enough attention for their non life-threatening problems when there are people dying. The government can't do everything. I'm willing to figure some things out on my own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    1) The US middle class is crushed by globalization. We had real economic growth from 1942 until the 70's and then growth by inflation afterwards
    2) The main reason the middle class is suffering today is because conservatives oppose allowing wages to be indexed to inflation.
    3) Conservatives only favor god, guns, greed & WASPs
    4) TPP is a horrible idea.
    5) GOP = Iran
    6) SSI is a New Deal program

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Chris: GOP are 3 for 3 on your list! That said, US business exported US jobs to increase profits!

    Not true
    Clinton did the trade deal with China
    Democrats want to legalize illegal immigration

    But this is not really about profits which is just something extra

    This is about taking America down

    Our politicians purposefully did China trade deal to take America's economy down

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Why is the BBC giving this sort of coverage to Barone and Siegel? The WASHINGTON EXAMINER is a billionaire's propaganda sheet, and Siegel's book is silly. Like most of the comments here, I would point to both the rhetoric of Buckley/Reagan "conservatism" and the revenue & finance policies (and radical income inequality) they produced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The flaws are ingrained in the American political, social system and general thought processes -- and are inflexible at overcoming the ´right to greed´.

    -- and the ´right to poverty´.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Gosh, I wonder if there's any correlation with a series of tax cuts most heavily favoring the wealthiest, launched in particular beginning with Reagan in 1981, and the growing concentration of wealth? Or, does this belong on a technology related rocket science thread?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    2. Reagan negotiated (sic) NAFTA (Canadians insist they got the short-stick on that deal); Bush Jr pre-emptively started a war with Iraq; and, immigration, especially the illegals working as de facto slaves in the South East US, were a result of the successful agriculture industry lobby of Republicans - GOP are 3 for 3 on your list! That said, US business exported US jobs to increase profits!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    the "rot in hollowed-out America slowly infects and overwhelms the dynamic one"

    Immigrant landscapers blow leaves on days when there are no leaves..just to keep them occupied. The office cleaner polishes a floor that has no tenants..to keep her occupied. Liberals think that's caring.
    America's youth is in danger of infection of idleness, making them, too, culturally content to have no voice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Interesting that Clinton's balanced budget had the middle class enjoying their best financial position since the 1950's and taxation was 20% of GDP: http://www.usdebtclock.org/2000.html Bush Jr moved some spending off-book, i.e. revenue/spending in 2004: http://www.usdebtclock.org/2004.html and 2008: http://www.usdebtclock.org/2008.html# Republican cooked books = the rise in the National debt!

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


Page 1 of 2


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.