‘Swelled’ instead of ‘squeezed’ middle

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‘Swelled’ instead of ‘squeezed’ middle


The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary chose “squeezed middle” as the 2011 Word of the Year. It is defined as “the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty, consisting principally of those people with low or middle incomes.” British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband first used the term on a BBC radio program earlier this year, and it has been used to represent the financial pinch we all feel nowadays.

The “squeezed middle” may describe the impact of the financial crisis on household finances for the middle class. Or, it could mean the shrinking of the middle class itself as polarization of the society becomes intensified. It may also be a metaphorical expression for a middle class unable to function properly. Personally, I think the middle class has lost its function and capacity in our society.

The role and function of the “middle” is keeping a balance between the left and the right, the above and the below. In the Chinese classic “The Doctrine of the Mean,” “unswerving pivot” maintains a solid center that does not lean to one side.

This year, the interest payments for household debt surpassed 50 trillion won ($44 billion).

At the end of last year, total household debt was 797 trillion won, but it increased to 840 trillion won by the end of September. The interest rate hike added to the burden, and 5 percent of total income is used to pay interest on household debt. The excessive interest burden has translated into a serious slump in domestic consumption. Wherever you go, merchants are struggling with sluggish business. In fact, many small-business owners have decided to close their shops.

As poverty is handed down generation to generation, it becomes harder and harder to move from low to middle class. The decline of real income has also pushed middle class families down to low-class status.

A trim waist line may add to a person’s charm, but it is a very harmful shape for a society. The rich need to realize that saving the middle class from falling and helping the low class move up is the wisdom that will keep society intact and stable. It is what Warren Buffett calls “enlightened self-interest.” Hopefully someday “swelled middle” will become the term of the year instead of “squeezed middle.”

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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