What "Normal" Are We Returning To? The Depression Nobody Dares Acknowledge

Perhaps we need an honest national dialog about declining expectations, rising inequality, social depression and the failure of the status quo.

Even as the chirpy happy-talk of a return to normal floods the airwaves, what nobody dares acknowledge is that “normal” for a rising number of Americans is the social depression of downward mobility and social defeat.

Downward mobility is not a new trend–it’s simply accelerating. As this RAND Corporation report documents, ( Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018) $50 trillion in earnings has been transferred to the Financial Aristocracy from the bottom 90% of American households over the past 45 years.

Time magazine’s article on the report is remarkably direct: The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90% — And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure.

“The $50 trillion transfer of wealth the RAND report documents has occurred entirely within the American economy, not between it and its trading partners. No, this upward redistribution of income, wealth, and power wasn’t inevitable; it was a choice–a direct result of the trickle-down policies we chose to implement since 1975.


We chose to cut taxes on billionaires and to deregulate the financial industry. We chose to allow CEOs to manipulate share prices through stock buybacks, and to lavishly reward themselves with the proceeds. We chose to permit giant corporations, through mergers and acquisitions, to accumulate the vast monopoly power necessary to dictate both prices charged and wages paid. We chose to erode the minimum wage and the overtime threshold and the bargaining power of labor. For four decades, we chose to elect political leaders who put the material interests of the rich and powerful above those of the American people.”

I’ve been digging into downward mobility and social depression for years: Are You Really Middle Class? 

The reality is that the middle class has been reduced to the sliver just below the top 5%–if we use the standards of the prosperous 1960s as a baseline.

The downward mobility isn’t just financial–it’s a decline in political power, control of one’s work and ownership of income-producing assets. This article reminds us of what the middle class once represented: What Middle Class? How bourgeois America is getting recast as a proletariat.

This reappraisal of the American Dream is also triggering a reappraisal of the middle class in the decades of widespread prosperity: The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?

Downward mobility excels in creating and distributing what I term social defeat: In my lexicon, social defeat is the spectrum of anxiety, insecurity, chronic stress, fear and powerlessness that accompanies declining financial security and social status….[    ]

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