Here in the quiet precincts of the stately Mead manor in exclusive Queens, as the dew gently falls over the mist-shrouded lawns and the pigeons coo soothingly from the historic-landmarked eaves, it is sometimes hard to believe, but out there in the workaday world the long and graceful decay of the American social model is accelerating into a more rapid and dangerous decline. The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore, and the gaps between the social system we’ve inherited and the system we need today are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper them over or ignore them.
In the old system, both blue collar and white collar workers hold stable jobs, a professional career civil service administers a growing state, with living standards for all social classes steadily rising while the gaps between the classes remain fairly stable, and with an increasing ‘social dividend’ being paid out in various forms: longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks and so on. Graduate from high school and you were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment in a job that gave you a comfortable lower middle class lifestyle; graduate from college and you would be better paid and equally secure.
Life would just go on getting better. From generation to generation we would live a life of incremental improvements — the details of life would keep getting better but the broad outlines of our society would stay the same. The advanced industrial democracies of had in fact reached the ‘end of history’: this is what ‘developed’ human society looked like and there would be no more radical changes because the picture had fully developed.
Call this the blue model, and the chief division in American politics today is between those who think the blue model is the only possible or at least the best feasible way to organize a modern society and want to shore it up and defend it, and those who think the blue model, whatever benefits it had in the past, is no longer sustainable.
That division is going to begin to erode in the next few years because the blue model is breaking down so fast and so far that not even its supporters can ignore the disintegration and disaster that it entails.
Read the entire article on The American Interest website (new window will open).