Before the advent of neoconservative economic policies beginning with Ronald Reagan, the American middle class arising out of various New Deal reforms enjoyed the longest period of rising prosperity in U.S. history. The laws insuring social security, the right to form unions, the GI bill, certain banking reforms are among several of those adjustments that allowed the middle class of that 40 year span to flourish. Then Reagan ascended to power and immediately began to dismantle the underpinning of the middle class beginning with his union busting in firing the PATCO workers. (It certainly didn't stop there.) Before Reagan, during the 50's and 60's, and 70's, it was possible for a single middle class paycheck to buy a home and a car, food, put two kids through college, and buy a few toys besides, like a TV, a bike for the kids, and a trip to Disneyland. And this in turn gave rise to the economy that would produce those goods, which in turn provided jobs to the very people who were buying the goods. It was a good system, not perfect, but good. This 40 year era, coupled with our ultimate victory in WWII, gave rise to what is nostalgically remembered as the golden age of limitless optimism and rising expectation. We all thought of America as being #1 in everything. So did most of the rest of the world.
An era like this doesn't happen by accident, as I alluded to above. It took a Roosevelt, he didn't run on the New Deal in 1932, to come around and develop the vision necessary to enact specific laws, a change in the rules of the game as it were, so that a middle class could emerge. (FDR wasn't actually the first to envision such a state of affairs...his cousin Teddy thought of it first.) Unions, enabled by law in the 40's, were central to this middle class emergence.
Among the most important economic factors of the era was a marginal tax rate of 90% and the system of tariffs we imposed on imports to keep foreign goods competitive with American equivalents. Remember, these 2 factors were in effect during this period. True, JFK did lower the marginal tax rate to 70%, but it was not the equivalent of today's tax cuts. JFK realized that the wealthiest Americans were not in fact paying 90%, so he cut it to 70% ALONG WITH tax reform that eliminated a lot of rich people tax loopholes.
So along comes Reagan for reasons too numerous and complex to discuss here, and kicks the New Deal in the ass. Those 40 years of middle class emergence and ascendancy were real, and Reagan's embrace of the neocon philosophy of greed took over. Union busting, tariffs all but eliminated, the tax rate drops to 30%, outsourcing, the previously unseen flood of cheap exploitable labor by corporations beginning in the 80's. And on the other side, enabling all the rules necessary for wealth to accrue to the wealthy.
This book is an important exploration of the practical effects of the neocon destruction of the middle class. It should be noted that the author's remedy of reformed taxation, yes, increasing the taxes paid by the wealthy, is not a function of some middle class envy or resentment of the wealthy. It is a function of economic justice---the justice of those who created their wealth using the infrastructure of this country paying their fair share back into that commonwealth. It has nothing to do with "living beyond their means". It has to do with the cultural knowledge that their parents just one generation ago could attain that which the current generation has been cheated out of. A home, a car, one decent job--not 4.
The rules we live by are not ordained by god. They are created, sometimes by hook or crook, by men. The middle class is going to need to fight back.