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Coursey: Economy's friendly skies reserved for a dwindling few

The PD's editorial section had an interesting piece over the weekend comparing the American economy to the seating choices on commercial airliners: First class is getting cushier and more expensive, and coach is getting more and more like a crowded bus.

The column, by Harold Meyerson of the liberal-leaning American Prospect, highlights the truth behind the old adage that “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.” And a new addition to that adage in today's economy is, “…and the middle class disappears.”

This is backed up by statistics and demographics. Meyerson points out that between 2009 and 2011, the incomes of the wealthiest 1 percent of American families grew by 11.2 percent, while those of the remaining 99 percent shrunk by 0.4 percent.

So, how do we turn the trend around and begin the restoration of America's middle class? Or, as Meyerson might put it, how can we create more legroom in the middle of the plane?

Some – particularly the most conservative elements of the Republican Party – suggest that the answer is to downsize our government, reduce our tax burden and then sit back and let the American economy pull itself up by its bootstraps. This has some broad appeal, particularly since government – and particularly our federal government – seems incapable of getting anything done these days.

But it ignores reality. The American economy is driven by a corporate agenda framed by Wall Street, and it is that agenda that is responsible for the current squeeze of the middle class. As former New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Hedrick Smith wrote in Sunday's editorial pages, continuing down that road is a recipe for more of the same.

Here are some of the statistics Smith used: Productivity by the American workforce increased by 97 percent between 1945 and 1973, and the income of the average family rose 95 percent in that same period. In other words, he said, Americans reaped the benefits of their hard work during that period.

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