"The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite Is Sending the Middle Class."
By Jeff Faux. John Wiley & Sons, 2012, 298 pages. Hardcover, $27.95.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Few political leaders and government officials -- Democrats and Republicans -- look out for the average American these days.
Wages have stagnated for more than 30 years. Pension benefits are declining, or disappearing, especially for younger workers. Proposed federal budget cuts threaten Social Security and Medicare.
Under recent "free trade" agreements approved by Congress, the United States now imports far more products than it exports -- increasing the national debt and cutting back jobs at home.
The increasingly bleak economic opportunities for our middle class are the focus of Jeff Faux's engaging, and disturbing, new book: "The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite Is Sending the Middle Class."
Faux was founding president of the Economic Policy Institute, an independent think tank in Washington, D.C.
The way Americans think about their future changed profoundly under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, first elected in 1932, and changed again under Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, Faux argues.
FDR and his New Deal gradually transformed the federal government into a major player looking out for working and poor people.
Most Americans enjoyed a generation of prosperity between 1947, after World War II, and 1979.
But then, "the age of Reagan greatly strengthened the class solidarity of our financial elites," Faux writes.
Between 1947 and 1973, wages in the United States rose by 75 percent. Between 1979 and 2005, they rose by four percent.
The end of the Cold War, marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Faux believes, "might have broken [the U.S.] out of the historical cycle of expansion and decline that had brought previous empires to ruin."
But when we needed national leaders to help mold a new era, they backed away, encouraging "an increasingly reactionary politics," Faux argues.
As president, Jimmy Carter was a "transitional figure" who built a bridge from the politics of FDR to those of Reagan.
Before Reagan took office in 1981, Carter had already begun deregulating airlines and banks, as well as the trucking and telecommunications industries.
Between 1993 and 2001, another Democrat -- Bill Clinton -- promoted "free trade" and undermined domestic jobs by further deregulating banks and financial institutions. Clinton's policies also undermined domestic manufacturing industries by facilitating imports of cheap foreign products from places like Mexico and China.
"The ideological framework was Reagan's, but the heavy political lifting was done by Clinton," Faux argues.
Clinton helped convince Congress to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. He created the World Trade Organization in 1995 and increased trade relations with China in 2000.
Throughout the 1990s, the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was an outspoken opponent of "free trade" legislation.
"By the end of the 'liberal' Clinton years," Faux writes, "financial regulation had been gutted and the regulatory agencies demoralized, a process that was then accelerated by his successor, George W. Bush."