But Pareene’s focus on conservative political appeal is much too narrow. The white middle-class that tended to support leaders like Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush, lost huge percentages of their life’s savings because of excessive fees paid to actively managed mutual funds, financial advisers, stockbrokers, pension fund managers and the like. They also paid 6 percent real estate commissions even as people in most countries paid much less. They rejected the Clintons’ health-care plan in 1993, and ended up paying double what people in other countries pay for comparable treatment. They forked over more and more money in college tuition. They paid higher prices to companies that went on to monopolize markets after spending millions convincing the government to allow their megamergers. The spectacular rise of U.S. wealth inequality shows that trillions of dollars in middle-class assets were shifted up the socio-economic ladder into the hands of a relatively small and fantastically rich upper tier.
Each of these little free-market failures was another slice off of the ham that was the wealth of the American middle class. The people who thought they were going to be the guests of honor at the feast ended up being the main course.
But this is only part of the answer. Much of middle-class Americans’ prosperity wasn’t stolen — it was never there to begin with. Hidden fees and overpriced services took away real wealth, but unrealistic expectations created fantasies of future wealth whose evaporation is probably an even bigger source of disappointment.
Why did U.S. households save less and less during the neoliberal era?