I think of Mark Thoma as a service-oriented blogger, who enriches the blogosphere with his nose for news. But I particularly enjoy it when he offers a memoir-istic interpretation of economic change. His thoughts on the economic status of his working-class parents are particularly interesting.

There seemed to be an understanding that workers had families to raise. Somehow, my parents - a worker at a parts counter and a peach factory worker - owned a house in a decent neighborhood and while it was tough some months, we had health care through my dad's job and most of the middle class trappings (even if we did get a color TV much later than the neighbors). He didn't work at a great big place or anything, probably ten to twenty employees total, but they still had health care, etc. It's hard to imagine two workers my parents age (in their later 20s) working at those jobs and being able to afford those things today.

I know the empirical evidence doesn't give a lot of weight to the union story for preventing inequality, but looking back it's hard not to believe that the evidence somehow misses an ethic that was present then, something larger than unions alone, something that is less present today, a social relationship between employers and employees that kept employers from pushing wages as low as they possibly could go.

I have a somewhat darker sense of that time, and a somewhat more optimistic sense of what the future will likely hold. All the same, Thoma provides valuable insight into the power of economic nostalgia, and why middle-class squeeze is such a potent issue.

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