Many times I hear people argue that the working class or poor should just stop expecting so much and be smarter with their money. You can't just orphan that thought out there! Such a venture, if it's undertaken with respect and integrity, has to mean real changes to our culture. We live in a culture that doesn't just value material wealth or affluence, but revels in excess, brags about largess and profligacy, makes a virtue of ostentation and a fetish of the most obscene and useless expense. That has to change, if we're going to accept the idea that we should all be happy with less. I know people kind of detest the language of compassion in politics, but it is a cruel thing, a cruel thing, to live in a culture that values wealth and only wealth, and then turn around and tell someone that they are irresponsible and wrong to be bent on acquiring it. It's easy to tell other people to delay gratification. It's much harder to actually be the one delaying it, when VH1 and the E! network are telling you everyday that you're nothing if you don't get that purse or that blouse or that g**d*** enormous television. I'm all for endorsing a modified American dream, but modifying it means a lot more than being a scold.
At the beginning of every recession, there are people who see the downturn as an occasion for moral revival: Americans will learn to live without material extravagances. They’ll simplify their lives. They’ll rediscover what really matters: home, friends and family.
But recessions are about more than material deprivation. They’re also about fear and diminished expectations. The cultural consequences of recessions are rarely uplifting.
In this recession, maybe even more than other ones, the last ones to join the middle class will be the first ones out. And it won’t only be material deprivations that bites. It will be the loss of a social identity, the loss of social networks, the loss of the little status symbols that suggest an elevated place in the social order. These reversals are bound to produce alienation and a political response. If you want to know where the next big social movements will come from, I’d say the formerly middle class.