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Friday, May 02, 2008

Hanging on in quiet desperation

I've just done what they say nobody does, which is watch an hour-long clip on the web. It's a lecture given recently by Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor, about "the coming collapse of the middle class".

There are two reasons to watch it: she's a brilliant lecturer who, as far as I can see, is working without notes and just talking over a few Powerpoint slides. More importantly, her argument is a powerful one studded with lots of surprising details that you're tempted to introduce into dinner party conversation immediately. She sets a number of questions and then, on the basis of a study that compares the American family today to its predecessor thirty years ago, answers them. Does the average family spend more or less on clothes, food and appliances? How do hospitals become more efficient? Is it by curing the sick or sending them home? Do people believe in social mobility more or less than they believe that the moon landings were staged? Do you personally know more people who've gone bankrupt than people who've got divorced? And although the expression "middle class" summons up different pictures in America than it does in Britain – it's Homer and Marge rather than Margot and Jerry - I think a lot of her lessons could be applied here.