Americans wax nostalgic about the period after World War II when the matchless engine of economic power—the middle class—was at the zenith of its influence. Settled between the Korean War and Vietnam, the fifties and sixties are recalled as a time when happy, well-scrubbed families could aspire to an American dream: a house; a car; health care and education for the family; a comfortable retirement and the satisfaction of knowing your kids were set up to do even better.
No matter how authentically American it might appear, this modern middle class was induced by our collective interventions when 16 million GIs returned home and the rest of the world’s manufacturing facilities were smoldering.
In those days, the United States was more than just a superpower—it was the superpower. But what truly empowered the middle class was the driving force of its ambition, an individual refusal to accept the status quo. Americans who had the moxie to beat their personal sword into a plowshare found the world receptive. This was American Mojo, and it was manifested in the birth of a new mass middle class.
Many Americans still lose themselves in sweet reverie about those days. We can endlessly recall them, but we cannot repeat them. Too much has changed about our nation, our diverse populace, and the world. America has altered in profound ways, yet we haven’t made shrewd course corrections. This has been our mojo lost.
In twenty years the global middle class will be unrecognizable– outside our border lies 80 percent of the world’s purchasing power, 92 percent of the world’s economic growth, and 95 percent of the world’s consumers. And they are hungry for change in a way that should be familiar.
A billion more middle-class members should emerge in the next decade. What does that surge mean for the American middle class?
We still look at middle-class problems myopically—as purely domestic affairs. This book assumes the missing global perspective ignored by domestic policy ostriches.
Today, we remain an economic behemoth, but the nations of the world are creating their own vision of modernity. Now we face an entirely transformed chessboard, yet our moves haven’t changed.
Which raises a central question for policy makers speeding to save the day: Is a vibrant global middle class an endless shining sea of opportunity, or is it an infinity pool where water flows over the edge to be distributed to other parts of the pool?
The answer to this question is where our mojo can be found.
We have become a frozen tableau of contrasts. We are rich, with poverty rates at all-time highs. Homeownership is higher here than anywhere in the world, and our homelessness keeps breaking records. Almost 40 percent of adults and 20 percent of kids are obese, and more Americans will go without food today than at any time since the framers.
We are frozen in other ways.
Some call our polarization and inability to unite against problems a crisis in governance. It’s no crisis. It’s a self-inflicted wound.
We’ve also become so anodyne to the real problems that we either falsify new ones or worse, we treat them like dry cleaning and have them done for us.
This isn’t a book that will tell you that the left or the right has a monopoly on good ideas. Not a single poll was taken in writing it. It’s not a book about China exactly. It’s about how America got diverted and lost momentum, and a dragon leapt into the breach. It’s also about getting our mojo back.
I don’t really care if you agree with me on everything. This isn’t that kind of book.
What I do care about is your willingness to face ten catastrophes we’ve allowed to go too far. Together we could come up with ten more, but these are ten biggies we need to address, right now. Actually, yesterday.