Picking up the thread from last week's post, it seems that just as the rhetoric of class warfare continues to occupy our political discourse, so too we can witness physical manifestations of a challenge to the 20th century status quo of political/economic stability through conventional democratic processes. Of all places to provide a preview of how things may play out, Israel's city of Tel Aviv has played host to months-long public protest of discouraged citizens literally camped out to demonstrate against increasing wealth disparity. Given the fact that Israel generally finds its way into international headlines as a result of the perennially challenging security concerns and relationship to its Arab citizens and Arab neighbors, the fact that so many too to the streets for so long to challenge the government's economic policies indicates that such matters should probably be taken seriously.
Recently here in the US demonstrations in a similar vein have appeared on the streets of major metropolitan areas, notably New York and Boston, challenging those in office to address their concerns over wealth and income disparity at a time of high unemployment and economic stagnation not seen since the days of the Great Depression some 80 years ago. When the current Global Financial Crisis began a few years ago it was, and still is, difficult to make the direct comparison to the 1929 crash and its impact on our society. The imagery simply was not there - the iconic images of the 1930s - Tremendously long lines at the soup kitchens, shanty towns in public parks, urban sidewalks piled high with the possessions of those newly homeless, formally white-collar workers hawking second hand goods in the streets, etc. - are seemingly absent from the images spawned by the 21st century economic melt-down. Does this mean that the economic challenges are not as acute? Arguably they are worse today as the fundamental nature of the US and global economies are under greater stress, with our flattened world and reliance on automation. So why don't things look as bad they did during the Great Depression. The lessons from last week on the question of Class Warfare provide an important clue as to why our challenges today might not seem as bad. Quite simply with the advent of the New Deal - and its social safety net of Unemployment Insurance and Social Security - and subsequent additional pieces of legislation (notably Medicare and Medicaid), the US adopted some trappings of the Welfare State which have ensured that today's economic difficulties don't appear as grave to the public eye (at least not yet) - as the unemployed are not immediately tossed on the street and the sick and elderly have means of support. Prior to New Deal legislation, private and municipal charities (and some states) took responsibility for supporting the indigent; but the scope of the difficulties the Depression created in a modern urban and industrialized society severely strained the ability of the existing system to care for those in need, ultimately compelling Federal action. If the public will to maintain that safety net dissipates, we may yet see imagery comparable to those photos and film footage from the 30s, and then we may truly get a taste of class warfare - and the Tent Cities of Tel Aviv could be a preview of long-term demonstrations here in the United States.