Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Twilight of the middle class?

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 26, 2013 17:52 UTC

It’s evening in America. That is the worrying news from the latest Heartland Monitor Poll, conducted quarterly and sponsored by the insurer Allstate and National Journal.

The researchers made a striking finding: The U.S. middle class, long the world’s embodiment of optimism and upward mobility, today is telling a very different story. The chief preoccupation of middle-class Americans is not the dream of getting ahead, it is the fear of falling behind.

The poll found that 59 percent of its respondents – a group of 1,000 people selected to be demographically representative of the United States as a whole – were afraid of falling out of their economic class over the next few years. Those who described themselves as lower middle class were even more scared than the overall group – 68 percent feared they could slip even lower down the economic ladder.

This wary vision of the future went hand-in-hand with a diminished idea of what it meant to belong to the middle class. More than half of the people polled – 54 percent – said that being middle class meant having a job and being able to pay your bills. Fewer than half – just 43 percent – took the more expansive view that membership in the middle class was a passport to financial and professional growth, buying a house and saving for the future.

“The key finding is that the middle class in America is more anxious than it is aspirational,” Jeremy Ruch, a senior director at the strategic communications practice of FTI Consulting and one of the people who led the polling, told me. “Some of the traditional characteristics of middle classness are not seen as realistic. They have been replaced by an anxiety about the possibility of falling out of their economic class.”

Banker steps into the role of superhero

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 23, 2013 16:06 UTC

In other ages, we have called on shamans or saints in times of crisis when the usual remedies have not worked.

In the stagnant world economy today, we have designated central bankers as our superheroes, and we are relying on their magical monetary powers to restart global growth.

As the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, whom some have nicknamed Super Mario, said this month: “There was a time, not too long ago, when central banking was considered to be a rather boring and unexciting occupation.”

How do middle powers fare in a winner-take-all economy?

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 16, 2013 15:35 UTC

This essay was originally published in the Toronto Globe & Mail.

How should countries navigate the twin challenges of our time – globalization and the technology revolution? If that seems to be an abstract question, consider the people of Cyprus whose futures have been devastated by their country’s failure to surf those international waves, or the threat posed by North Korea and its refusal to participate in these two transformations.

Most of the conversation about how geopolitics is changing in the 21st century focuses on the shift from west to east, and on how we’re moving from the bipolar power equation of the Cold War to a new bipolar relationship, that of the U.S. and China, that determines the mood music for everyone else.

That’s true. But what if you aren’t in Beijing or Washington? How has the world changed for the middle powers, and what should we do about it?

The sorrow and the pity of Obama’s budget

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 11, 2013 21:15 UTC

Pity Barack Obama. Everything in his life experience prepared him to be the president who would take on the big challenge of the 21st century: rising income inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class.

His peripatetic youth taught him about the price of plutocracy. In an interview unearthed by Zachary A. Goldfarb of the Washington Post, in 1995 Barack Obama, plugging his autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” recalled that experience for the Hyde Park Citizen, his neighborhood edition of a newspaper that bills itself as the “Premiere African American Weekly” in Chicago.

“My travels made me sensitive to the plight of those without power and the issues of class and inequalities as it relates to wealth and power,” he said.

A novel look at emerging market entrepreneurs

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 4, 2013 20:22 UTC

If you read just one book this spring to understand how the world is changing, it should be Mohsin Hamid’s new novel, “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.” The central theme of this funny and vivid work is familiar: the great shift in the global economy’s center of gravity from West to East.

What makes Hamid’s tale so revealing is that he gets beneath the human skin of that tectonic lurch. Asia’s rise is a story of the eastward tilt of global gross domestic product, but behind those numbers are billions of individual lives that are being radically transformed. In particular, Hamid, who lives in Lahore, Pakistan, focuses on the rapid urbanization that is both a driver and a consequence of economic growth in the emerging markets.

Hamid reminds us how epic that transition is for the people swept up in it. As he writes in his novel: “You witness a passage of time that outstrips its chronological equivalent. Just as when headed into the mountains a quick shift in altitude can vault one from subtropical jungle to semi-arctic tundra, so too can a few hours on a bus from rural remoteness to urban centrality appear to span millennia.”

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