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The American Housing Market is Set to Screw People Far into the Future

Class divisions have become the new norm in housing.

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Between 1968 and 2006, Uslaner’s research documents, the share of Americans who believe that “most people can be trusted” dropped from 56 to 34 percent. “Such overarching pessimism,” he observes, shreds social cohesion and invites political polarization. Finding “common ground” becomes ever more difficult.

Into this doom and gloom, Stanford historian Richard White has just brought some egalitarian sunshine. Once upon a time, White  writes in a fascinating new Boston Review essay, most Americans lived in much more equal circumstances.

In the 1860 Illinois of Abraham Lincoln, for instance, Springfield “bricklayers, lawyers, stable owners, and managers lived in the same areas and were not much separated by wealth.”

Back then, White explains, “making it” meant earning an income able “to support a family and have enough in reserve to sustain it through hard times at an accustomed level of prosperity.”

“The idea of having enough,” adds White, “frequently trumped the ambition for endless accumulation.”

In other words, nothing in the American “character” hardwires us to chase mindlessly after grand fortune — or accept income segregation.

Sam Pizzigati edits the Institute for Policy Studies inequality weekly Too Much. His latest book, published by Seven Stories Press, is entitled "The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class."

 
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