One of our founding fathers, Ben Franklin, was an
intellectual, inventor, and politician. Ambassador to
France, he was the author of Poor Richard's
Almanac, and he organized the first library and the
volunteer fire department.
But what I identify with about Ben Franklin is that he
was a printer. Throughout his life he referred to
himself as "B. Franklin, printer."
I grew up with printing. Franklin called himself a
"leather-apron." By my time, it was a heavy,
yellow-gold canvas apron, but I wore it much of my
I've recently been reading Walter Isaacson's
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, and as I've
read, I've noted Franklin's views about what he
called the "middling" class.
Franklin valued middle-class craftsmen. He valued
a prosperous middle class whose "members lived
simple lives of democratic equality," according to
To Franklin, America's "strength would be its
creation of a proud middling people, a class of
frugal and industrious shopkeepers and
tradesmen who were assertive of their rights and
proud of their status.
"Those who met with greater economic success in
life were responsible to help those in genuine
need; but those who from lack of virtue failed to pull
their own weight could expect no help from society."
"There were few people in America either as poor
or as rich as those in Europe," he said. "It is rather
a general happy mediocrity that prevails." (And he
meant that in a good way.) Of couse, the situation
has changed in a big way!
Franklin felt that America was creating a society
where a "mere man of Quality" who does not want
to work would be "despised and disregarded,"
while anyone who has a useful skill would be
"A man who is less concerned with the golden
pavements of the City of God than that the
cobblestones on Chestnut Street in Philadelphis
should be well and evenly laid, who troubles less to
save his soul from burning hereafter than to protect
his neighbor's houses by organizing an efficient
fire-company, who is less regardful of the light that
never was on sea or land than of a new-model
street lamp to light the steps of a belated
wayfarer--such a man, obviously, does not reveal
the full nature of human aspiration," Franklin said.
Such a man would be a needed asset to any
society, and the threatened loss of an entire social
class of such people would be a loss not to be
Today's sluggish job growth and continued
underemployment has been particularly
hard on people who formerly held middle
class, high-skill jobs.
Since the 2008 recession, there has been a
failure of the middle class to recover. Even
when jobs have increased, wages have
stagnated, making it feel as if the recession
According to Jeffrey Dorfman, we seem to be
moving toward an economy where most
jobs are at the lower or upper end of the
income spectrum with few jobs in the middle
Lower class or upper class jobs don't easily
lend themselves to automation, while many
intermediate jobs can be replaced by
Manufacturing jobs are "under pressure
from automation as every manufacturer
strives to produce more using fewer
What steps can we take as a society to
increase the number of those in what
Franklin calls "the middling class," and what
those of us who value our nation need to
consider as the essential class? At the very
least, we should see to it that the extremes
don't slip further apart.
A woman in Ferguson demonstrates God's attitude toward race relations.