The spark for my book Hollowed Out: Why the Economy Doesn’t Work Without a Strong Middle Class came more than two decades ago when I was a student coaching baseball at a summer camp that moved throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. In some towns, the job was a pain because I constantly had to supervise almost everything the kids did—forcing them to share the ball, let someone else use the bat, or give up their turn as pitcher. But in other towns—towns that were more middle-class—the job was great because the kids could go to the equipment bag, get what they needed, and play catch, start a drill, or even play a game with very little need for me to manage behavior. Those kids could self-organize, which enabled me to teach them baseball skills and have fun doing it.
Many years later, I would come to understand that what I was witnessing in those middle-class towns was trust, which is the foundation of a functioning economy and democracy because it enables people to work together. But in those days, I had only a vague understanding that a strong middle class led to good things—which was the exact opposite of what I was learning in school and hearing from politicians.The above excerpt was originally published in Democracy Journal.