Book Review on “War on the Middle Class” by Lou Hobbs
Lou Dobbs is a veteran journalist who started his career in the 1970’s working for local TV and radio stations in Arizona. Currently he anchors his own show Lou Dobbs Tonight which airs on CNN. He writes a regular editorial column and hosts his own radio shows in two radio stations. He is also an avid lecturer and is recognized as one of the most esteemed national economic and political commentators to date.
In October 5, 2006, he published his first book entitled “War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back” as part of his advocacy for the working people, critically analyzing what he calls a dysfunctional government and the ills of the current capitalist system. Necessarily, he also presents alternative ways in which this situation can be changed.
Dobb’s work is a journalistic account from an independent populist perspective using an argumentative stance on why America’s middle class are experiencing the social problems that they do today and the role that the triumvirate of government, corporate interests and lobbyists played in creating this situation.
The author criticizes the extreme laissez-faire economic policies of the past and present Democratic and Republican administrations which removed the regulating role of the government with regards to economic policies to that of a spectator-collaborator and the absolute rule of capital. The free market has reduced everything, including social services, into commodities with profits as the driving force. Democracy is reduced to the mere exercise of the American’s right to vote.
The book discusses social inequality and how it impacts the middle class which comprises the largest segment of society. The author defined the parameters of social class as primarily determined by income and showed how so few earn so much while countless struggle to earn for basic needs.
Lou Dobbs describes how this inequality has limited people’s opportunities for education, health care and economic progress and is severely curtailed by government policies and programs which he argues are based on the narrow self-interest of public officials at the highest levels, business and the so-called special interest groups.
It is a reality that the state of social services in America is in crisis because the government continues to ignore these issues and as confirmed by Redmond (1), “under capitalism, health care services (and all other services for that matter) are comparable to fast food–a commodity to be bought and sold, like hamburgers and French fries so that money spent on patient care under a managed care system is considered a medical loss”.
Thus, those who have money have access to quality education, health and other services because public services are suffering from lack of government support and are increasingly being privatized (Noguera 1). Access to these services in turn has an impact on one’s social mobility, economic productivity and general living conditions.
As of the present, the phenomenon of an ageing health services workforce and the continuing limited number of teachers constitutes a cycle in that the number of Americans who are educated enough to serve in these sectors is decreasing while there is also deficiency in the labor force required to deliver such services.
Although in principle, special interest groups play a role in a democracy as the voice of marginalized sectors, it negates this democracy when business enterprises use these groups to push their essentially profit-driven political and economic agenda through campaign contributions, lobbying and research.
The author also points out the penchant of the religious sector in focusing on such issues such as abortion, family life and gay marriage, which are but forms of tokenism and diversionary discussions. This happens when there are far more glaring, urgent and widespread problems such as poverty and equality that should merit the same focus and concern.
Dobbs also tackled the effects of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), as a consequence of U.S. membership in the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), on domestic employment opportunities. The interest of capital has taken primacy over the interest of domestic labor with regards to these trade agreements.
One of the results of the GATT, as corroborated by Reaser (1), is that the U.S. can now outsource the necessary labor for its industries in third world countries and U.S. corporations engage in it because the poorer client states can provide both skilled and unskilled labor at a far cheaper cost with lesser government regulation and a less assertive workforce. This leaves the U.S. labor sector nearly extinct, leaving millions of families without sources of income (Pressman 1).
In the same manner, he discusses how the influx of illegal immigrants into U.S. soil has so affected American life. So much emphasis is placed on this issue and the author’s anti-immigrant sentiment and is understandable as an expression of American nativism, which becomes dominant, in the words of Nevins (97), “during times of economic uncertainty and decreasing job security, when the social, ethnic, and cultural disparities between the dominant culture and new immigrants have loomed large”.
The author has also included discussions on the trade deficit and how the American tax paying public bears the brunt of it, the media’s role as an accomplice to government neglect, our vulnerability to homeland security threats, business practices that put consumers to severe disadvantage, the political scandals, the state of the public social services sector, the status of American families among others.
All of these issues point to millions of middle class families who increasingly let go of the American Dream and adopt lower standards of living in order to survive (Kochan 37). This occurs while the elite few increasingly and steadily become richer at the expense of the majority, a challenge to the purported capacity of the industrialized world in providing the best standards of living for its people.
However, the book also points out the American middle class’ culture of silence with regards to their marginalization. The lack of activism, political consciousness and involvement in concrete action also perpetuates the current social system because the absence of dissenting opinions is by default consenting opinion. For corporate interests and the government subservient to it, this political situation is very ideal for their unhampered operations. Thus, the author calls for the middle class to find its voice and stop the “war that is waged against them”.
The book is informative and aimed at educating the general public or rather it attempts to articulate public/middle class opinion through a fresh and relatively straightforward analysis of economic and political conditions in the U.S. and the subsequent social problems that these structures have bred in society.
This student finds the work largely persuasive and insightful, reinforcing personal views with regards to society. Social stratification is truly inherent in all of contemporary societies. How these gaps can be bridged in order to achieve the highest level of equality among peoples in a multi-cultural society such as the U.S. should be the function of the government. A true democracy is when the interests and welfare of the majority are what constitute national interest and is therefore advanced.
The causes of social problems are not independent from the current economic and political situations and should be determined by analyzing what is wrong within these structures. This is because inequality is essentially the unequal access of different social classes to economic and political resources. The adequate analyses of problems are lame however, if appropriate and effective methods of transformation are not equally considered.
The book is generally well written, provides a whole lot of information and is easy to read considering its heavy subject matter. It includes anecdotal statements to prove certain points. However, some anecdotes seem to serve as mere icebreakers since they don’t relate much to the subject of the chapter. As the author also focuses on so many major and minor issues, some topics are left hanging, such as analyses and especially with regards to practical solutions to problems, because of inadequate discussion.
In general, though, he has pointed out the most important and rather controversial things with regards to the middle class situation, beginning with stating the determinants for social class. He also discussed the ideal standard of living, the current state of living and why the ideal and the actual are so incongruent, thus meriting discussion on the wider issues of trade liberalization, immigration and others.
The book arouses analytical thinking in the reader with a topic that although constitutes daily experience, has never been articulated so sharply. Further, readers can identify with most of the issues presented that if compounded with more concrete “ways to fight back”, would have created such a great impact on the reading public.
There are few works brave enough to delve on such a subject matter as this so that the publication of this book and its reading is timely in a period where there is a looming recession, financial difficulties are at its peak for the average American and campaign for the presidential elections is again underway.
The book has many fine points but in particular, there are some views of the author that this student finds wanting:
With regards to immigration, the author has supported current strict immigration laws and has partly blamed the increasing number of illegal immigrants for further tax burdens, increased health risks and added competition to decreased employment opportunities. In this sense, he fails to empathize with the working people beyond U.S. borders, who contend with much more oppressive and exploitative conditions as that experienced by the American working people (Bacon 4).
Regarding media as a source of uncritical and sensationalist information, Janice Terry (45) said that the blame is “on the limited number of American corporate and international groups who own and control the media and this state of elite ownership has practically eliminated any possibility of safeguarding the national interest”. Dobb’s soft critique on the media industry as opposed to his harsher critique on government stems from the probability that he did not want to bite the hand where he gets his bread and butter from.
The author has also left out some contemporary issues such as wars that the U.S. has waged on other countries and its impacts back home. He particularly stated that terrorism is perpetuated by Islamic terrorist forces but declines to discuss U.S. intervention policies in non-Muslim states such as the Philippines, Somalia and others or to see how lobbyists for a war economy has strived to justify continued occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and how corporate interests have profited from these wars. The increase in military spending definitely has a great impact on American human lives and the welfare because these funds could have been used for such services as education or healthcare.
Finally, the solutions to the myriad problems as concretized by the author in the involvement in local associations and active participation in community meetings in order to influence decision making and public opinion as well as advocating and supporting the passage of appropriate laws is paramount to working within the same political system. This is something that is not new and has been offered many times as solutions to certain social problems and mirrors a journalist’s point of view.
In this student’s opinion, appropriate action is committed when one is compelled to act due to necessity and commitment to a cause. The American experience of political movements that challenge government does not equal the intensity as those movements in the third world probably because of the considerably better living conditions here as compared to those countries.
In addition, the lack of political diversity in terms of theory and practice has limited the American middle class response to poverty and marginalization. However, through studying our history and seeing how average working peoples have responded to economically and politically restrictive situations, we can learn some important lessons in “how to fight back”. By checking on our own apathetic attitudes and apolitical behavior, we can change our selves and our immediate social environment.
The book “War on the Middle Class” is a journalist cum economic and political analyst’s work on the current deplorable status of majority of America’s citizens and provides an explanation of the economic, political and social factors that led to such a state of affairs. It is recommended reading for those who wish to obtain such an understanding of these circumstances through an easy to read medium and for those who seek alternatives to their current life situations.
Bacon, D. The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border. California:
University of California Press, 2004
Kochan, T. A. Restoring the American Dream: A Working Families’ Agenda for America.
Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2005
Nevins, J. Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Making of the U.S.-
Mexico Boundary. New York: Routledge, 2003
Noguera, P.A. “Confronting the Challenge in Privatization of Public Education”. 1998.
Inmotionmagazine. 8 March 2008
Pressman, S. The Decline of the Middle Class: An International Perspective. Journal of
Economic Issues, 41, 2007
Reaser, L. Outsourcing of U.S. Jobs: Threat or Benefit?. ABA Journal, 96, 2006
Redmond, H. The Health Care Crisis in the United States: A Call to Action. Health and
Social Work, 26, 2001
Terry, J. U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: The Role of Lobbies and Special Interest
Groups. London: Pluto Press, 2005