N.Y. Times columnist Frank Rich has written a “death of reasonable economic proportion in America” piece in today’s edition. He contrasts the old-time theology of Robbins Barstow, a Connecticut family man who believed in 1956 (along with everyone else) in an essentially fair American system that offered bountiful or pot-of-gold fortunes to any enterprising American, with today’s corrupted Inside Job reality.
Barstow’s Eisenhower-era faith was reflected to some extent in some “family goes to Disneyland” home movie footage that he shot in ’56, He edited it all together and then added music and sound narration for a 1995 short called Disneyland Dream, which was admitted to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2008. Here are part 2 and part 3.
“How many middle-class Americans now believe that the sky is the limit if they work hard enough?,” Rich asks. “How many trust capitalism to give them a fair shake? Middle-class income started to flatten in the 1970s and has stagnated ever since. While 3M has continued to prosper, many other companies that actually make things (and at times innovative things) have been devalued, looted or destroyed by a financial industry whose biggest innovation in 20 years, in the verdict of the former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, has been the cash machine.
“It’s a measure of how rapidly our economic order has shifted that nearly a quarter of the 400 wealthiest people in America on this year’s Forbes list make their fortunes from financial services, more than three times as many as in the first Forbes 400 in 1982. Many of America’s best young minds now invent derivatives, not Disneylands, because that’s where the action has been, and still is, two years after the crash. In 2010, our system incentivizes high-stakes gambling — ‘this business of securitizing things that didn’t even exist in the first place,’ as Calvin Trillin memorably wrote last year — rather than the rebooting and rebuilding of America.
“In last week’s exultant pre-holiday press conference, President Obama called for a ‘thriving, booming middle class, where everybody’s got a shot at the American dream.’ But it will take much more than rhetorical Scotch tape to bring that back. The Barstows of 1956 could not have fathomed the outrageous gap between this country’s upper class and the rest of us. America can’t move forward until we once again believe, as they did, that everyone can enter Frontierland if they try hard enough, and that no one will be denied a dream because a private party has rented out Tomorrowland.”