Middle Class Is Imperiled

Article excerpt

It's a sign of these unsettled times that the analyst who famously announced "the end of history" in 1989, when the Soviet empire was crumbling and liberal, free-market democracy seemed inevitable, has just published a new essay with the provocative title "The Future of History."

Francis Fukuyama's article appears in the January edition of the journal Foreign Affairs. It offers a good introduction to what may be the biggest political issue of 2012 -- the decline of the middle class in the United States and around the world. Without this middle class, Fukuyama argues, liberal democracy loses its anchor.

"Protect the middle class" is a rote slogan for both parties in this presidential election year. But Fukuyama argues that the danger comes not from particular tax or spending policies of either party, but from the very dynamic of the modern, global economy. This new world may be flat, but it's also tilted -- with the benefits flowing disproportionately toward the elites.

"Inequality has always existed, as a result of natural differences in talent and character," writes Fukuyama. "But today's technological world vastly magnifies those differences." The fortunate few "can become financial wizards or software engineers and take home ever-larger proportions of the national wealth."

Fukuyama is a useful bellwether. "The End of History" was widely cited as the apogee of post-Cold War optimism, and then derided after Sept. 11, 2001, when history seemed to have returned with a vengeance.

Fukuyama isn't revising his enthusiasm for liberal democracy, which he still sees as "the default ideology around much of the world today. …