Does anyone aspire to a middle-class life anymore?

Updated

The Morning Joe gang highlighted a New York Times op-ed by the writer Lee Siegel as one of Thursday’s Must Reads.

Siegel argues that these days, no one aspires to the kind of modest, secure middle-class existence that Willy Loman sought in “Death of a Salesman.”

In our time of banker hustlers, real-estate hustlers and Internet hustlers, of suckers and “muppets,” it is unlikely that anyone associates happiness and dignity with working hard for a comfortable existence purchased with a modest income. Even what’s left of the middle class disdains a middle-class life. Everyone, rich, poor and in between, wants infinite pleasure and fabulous riches.

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Perhaps there is a simple, unlovely reason “Death of a Salesman” has become such a beloved institution. Instead of humbling its audience through the shock of recognition, the play now confers upon the people who can afford to see it a feeling of superiority — itself a fragile illusion.

Siegel writes of the demise of “the industries that employed the salespeople, factory workers, middle managers and others in the plentiful, humbler realms of mid-20th-century capitalism begun to dry up,” and adds that “today’s capitalists no longer share Willy’s belief that he could attain dignity through his work.”

But Joe Scarborough pointed out that the fracturing of the American Dream is hardly a development that only surfaced with the Great Recession.

“This is a fear that did not begin five years ago or even four years,” Scarborough said. “I remember in the early ’70s driving around upstate New York, and my parents looking at the factories that had closed, going, ‘you know what, things are slipping away.’”

“We’ve been going around in circles for 40 years,” Scarborough added.

There’s another thing, too. Plenty of Americans who are struggling to get by – for instance, the record 46 million living in poverty – would probably say they’d jump at the chance for a comfortable existence purchased with a modest income. But those people don’t fit Siegel’s theory.

Does anyone aspire to a middle-class life anymore?

Updated