The Society of the Owned: Caught in the Middle

Terrance Heath

Part Four of a series.

Let’s return, once more, to our metaphorical intersection from parts two and three of the series. Except, where we once imagined a doomed pedestrian just preparing to cross the intersection, let’s imagine a group of pedestrians stuck in the middle of the intersection. When they started across the intersection, they had the green light. As far as they knew, it was safe to cross. But — as luck would have it — they were just halfway across when the signal changed. Now, traffic whizzes by them, on both sides, heedless to their plight as they find it impossible to finish the journey to the other side of the street, and difficult to go back whence they came.

It’s not a stretch to imagine those pedestrians as representing the middle-class, buffeted by the credit crisis on one side and the subprime crisis on the other, and finding themselves caught in the middle, with no real options except to hope the signal changes again, so they can either scramble to the other side of the street, or make a hasty retreat.

Upward mobility in the American economy has always been something like the popular 1980s computer game, “Frogger,” in which players had to maneuver their frogs across a busy street. Doing so successfully often meant taking two hops backward of sideways for every one hop forward. Failure to move fast enough meant getting squashed flat by oncoming traffic. Today, after hopping sideways for as long as possible, America’s middle class is getting flattened, or — for the lucky — taking several hops backwards.

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