What will America become if we have to rely solely on the wealthy to provide medical, scientific, engineering, manufacturing, art and social inventions?
Genius is not confined to any socio-economic group. It can emerge anywhere. Yet poverty closes most doors to the development of genius. Shut down the American middle class and where would genius arise? What route would it take to its fruition? Genius would need to come largely from the wealthy.
The upshot of a two-tier America - the wealthy and everyone else scraping by - will be the death of American genius.
If this had been the case during Jonas Salk's childhood, where would we be? The son of Russian immigrants lacking formal education, he was encouraged to become the first of his family to attend college? The rest is history and polio became a disease of the past.
What about Thomas Edison, the seventh child of middle-class parents? His educator mother saw in him a talent that others considered mere oddity, and she was able to foster that talent with home schooling. During Edison's life, necessity became the mother of invention as he in turn sought to support his ailing parents. His genius, enabled by a middle-class upbringing, combined to change the course of mankind.
If we had to rely solely on wealthy families for those who have shaped America, would we not be much less a nation than we are today? Georgia O'Keefe, Leonard Bernstein, Maya Angelou, President Obama, President Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, General David Petraeus, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sortomayor, Michael J. Fox, Steve Jobs, Ken Burns, Margaret Mead and so many others would not have influenced art, music, law, society, human behavior research, and technology to the extent they did were it not for the ability of those without great wealth to change the world.
It is difficult to precisely define the parameters of the middle class. And certainly the upper echelons of the American middle class offer a greater boost to the flowering of genius. But without this range and the dreams it enables, this nation can only suffer.
Why then would we stand by idly while the very wealthy and their big-business entities buy off our senators and congressmen, as they manipulate and dumb down mass media to keep Americans out of touch, and their shills call for "deficit reduction" efforts to cut Medicare and Social Security while keeping extraordinary tax breaks and loopholes for the very rich intact?
How do we justify turning a blind eye to how the U.S. economy remains managed by the very people who brought us the catastrophic and continuing failure of the financial and mortgage markets? How can we allow the "too-big-to fail" banking-bailout slights of hand to continue?
Can we afford to passively watch efforts to keep a politics-averse champion like Elizabeth Warren from actually protecting "consumers"?
Why do we listen to propagandistic pundits warn against redistribution of wealth when the real redistribution over the last 30 years has been the transfer of middle-class American dollars into the pockets of the very, very rich?
What benefit is there to remaining quiet while the quality of public education deteriorates? While alternate forms of energy barely blip the surface of our energy policies and are actively opposed? While the infrastructure of the U.S. not only fails to lead the world or even advance competitively, but is overburdened and crumbling?
As if surreptitious forms of destroying the middle class weren't enough, in Third World America Arianna Huffington describes another egregious way that the depletion of wealth for all but the few happens in broad daylight:
The corporate class games the system -- making sure its license to break the rules is built into the rules themselves. One of the most glaring examples of this continues to be the ability of corporations to cheat the public out of tens of billions of dollars a year by suing offshore tax havens. Indeed, it's estimated that companies and wealthy individuals funneling money through offshore tax havens are evading around $100 billion a year in taxes -- leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab.
And yet, government initiatives that benefit people whose lives are shattered or in danger of being so is labeled "socialism." Apparently it's okay in America today to make the rich richer, but don't dare give a hand up to hard working people who are barely getting by.
Unless we heed the signs of increasing greed and inhumanity among the most powerful entities in America, and fight it at every turn, America is heading toward a day when it will no longer be the land of opportunity for those with little money, nor the protector of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, nor a place where dreams can come true for even the poorest of children. Rather it will become the killing fields of its own native genius, the dismantler of hope and the enemy of its own promise.
Dr. Reardon also blogs at bardscove.