We’ve been hearing a lot about the ‘squeezed middle’ recently and my guess is we will hear a good deal more.
Why? Because the notion of a squeezed middle is very convenient for the government, the rich and the media commentators who basically support the status quo.
What it does is suggest a) that the political establishment represents and cares about the ‘average’ citizen, ‘ordinary hard working family’ who stand in the middle between the rich and the poor and b) that the middle is being squeezed equally from above and below – below being the poor, the unemployed, welfare recipients, lone parents and so on.
In fact this is a totally false picture of what has been happening in Irish society and is happening today.
The average wage in Ireland is about €30,000 a year. Data from the Revenue Commissioners shows there are 18.5% on less than €10,000 and similar numbers on €10-20,000 and €20-30,000, i.e. about 55% of income earners are on less than €30,000. About 14% are on €30-40,000 and about 10% on €40-50,000.
In other words low and ‘average’ earners make up the large majority. 70% are on under €40k and 80% on under €50.
Then there is the fact that someone on €40k may be fairly near the middle in terms of numbers of people but they are nowhere near the middle in terms of the gap between rich and poor, between those on under €10k and the 1% at the top on over €200,000 per year. That’s like saying the Dublin Hills are mid-way between sea level and Mt Everest.
And even this picture grossly underestimates the real level of inequality because the high earners in the top 1% also usually have lots of wealth in the shape of stocks, shares and property. So the richest 300 – the likes of Denis O’Brien, Hilary Weston, Michael O’Leary and so on – have between them wealth of €88 billion (88,000,000,000) which is more than a third of Ireland’s whole GDP of €181 billion.
When we take this into account the comparison for our earner on €40k is not with the Dublin Hills and Mt. Everest but the Dublin Hills and the moon or maybe Mars.
What is vital to understand here is the strategy of our rulers – the 1% and above – which most of the media goes along with. They want to split the majority in society, the low to middle income earners, who together make up the working class of manual and white collar workers, and play one section off against the other.
When it was Luas workers striking for a pay increase they condemned them as ‘greedy’ and incited the low paid against them. When lone parents or welfare recipients ask for more they make them out to be a threat to the slightly better off, the so-called ‘squeezed middle’. It is ‘divide and rule’ pure and simple.
Another media term that serves the same purpose as the ‘squeezed middle’ is the ‘coping classes’. This works two ways. First it tries to suggest to the average person who doesn’t receive benefits that this is because they are hard working, sensible people who ‘cope’ rather than the poor who are ‘lazy’ and ‘feckless’. In other words it makes inequality into a matter of personal merit rather material circumstances, which is just how the rich want us to see it and the way they have seen it ever since the days of the Poor Laws and the workhouse.
Second it says to the average working class person, if you are having a hard time, which they are, it is because of those below you. It doesn’t actually use the nasty term ‘scroungers’ but subtly implies it.
In reality the people squeezing those in the middle and making life hard for ‘the copers’ are not the people at the bottom but the people at the top – the super rich who set the political agenda, fund the establishment political parties, own and control most of the media and impose unfair taxes such the USC, the property tax and the water charges. These are the same people who also make workers unemployed by ‘letting them go’ and making them redundant, who grind down the lone parents, who cut funds to the community sector and to DEIS schools and for Traveller accommodation and the rest.
And all this talk of the squeezed middle and the coping classes is designed to help them get away with it by having us fight among ourselves instead of uniting against them.