Chasing the American dream, it seems, has been a game of diminishing returns for many in the middle class. So much so, in fact, that there are entire communities of people making over $60,000 a year who are still unable to afford a home or, in some cases, are struggling to maintain their—now considered meager—way of life. What happens when the well-to-do just aren’t anymore? And how could that be a good thing for our country’s e-waste?
The information superhighway to get rich
Perhaps one of the most fascinating byproducts of the internet has been the incredible number of billionaires it has made out of people—some of whom may be less deserving than others. While this wave of wealthy emerges from the pixels on our screens, the rest of us are being marginalized into lower standards of living than the middle class has ever been used to.
The uneven distribution of wealth has been a human condition since the beginning of commerce. It’s only that now, with all the technology we have and the potential for opulence being paraded before our eyes the longer we scroll, we are feeling the pinch of that dissonance. The fat cats are still getting fatter, but it chafes us to see where the middle class is landing.
The scourge of affluence
It can be difficult being rich. In full disclosure, this is not something I have first-hand experience with, but with regards to the majority of the world, mine is a life of extremes. Human nature is to “expand to fill” what restricts us. We are excessive. And when most people achieve a level of wealth, there is a tendency to splurge.
But beyond the individual, we can see this tendency come out in the way communities, businesses, and even our government cater to the wealthy. And it’s in these movements that the middle class has thinned to almost non-existence. The economies of this country are dictated by the level of affluence in the areas where those businesses exist.
Markets, in the areas of the country most affected by wealth, are so successful that it’s actually ruining the market everywhere else. A cellular phone should never cost $1,000 and yet, in Silicon Valley, apparently, that price seems reasonable for a phone with meh reviews. Middle classes are being priced out of access to the things that class made successful in the first place.
This lack of upward mobility by a growing number of people can still have a silver lining, however. By restricting access to the next best thing, the middle class is being forced to rethink their resources. To be, dare we say, more responsible with their consumption. The hope is that this economy will even itself out before the middle class gets lost forever and we end up in a revolution-ripe environment. After all, the laws of supply and demand are unkind to the marginalized.
Getting it from all sides
The middle class was actually an accidental side-effect of our federal tax laws, according to C.W. Allen. In his book Inc. & Grow Rich, Allen postulates that in the early days of our nation, the clever lawyers of the wealthy found loopholes which allowed their clients to avoid certain taxation, thus separating them from anyone else who couldn’t afford those lawyers. Heavy taxes was not the problem of the poor, and, thanks to some legal insight, no longer a concern of the wealthy. The result was a new class of people who made an above-average living, but who couldn’t get out from the tax laws that penalized such success.
Today, since the majority of Americans are doing well, pressures from the federal government, local institutions, the IRS, and a host of other influences have a net-negative effect on the average community. Gaps are widening, and access is being limited. It’s clear as our country increases its affluency, the reuse economy becomes ever more important. And that’s where businesses can help.
A conscientious ITAD program—one that looks to extend the life of electronics—will have programs like refurbishment, Employee Purchase Programs (EPPs), and even donation opportunities. These programs are designed to lessen the pressures falling on the classes who are locked out of affluence.
Whether or not you are successful, in a successful society, you will have growing limitations. To the extent that over 50% of Americans will get lost in these limitations remains to be seen. But, with a robust reuse economy in play, the concern might be moot. And, overall, we can hope that manufacturers price themselves out of the rampant-consumer market and land somewhere more sustainable.