In NRO Kevin D. Williamson quotes a “superior economist” who once advised that the our national problem is the “stagnation of real wages and the disappearance of jobs offering middle-class incomes, as well as the constant insecurity that comes with not having reliable jobs or assets.”
That economist is none other than Paul Krugman, whose favorite pastime today seems to be chiding the rich for their conspicuous consumption. But as Mr. Williamson asks, how in the world would making Donald Trump, for example, less rich make anyone else less poor? The very poor are generally poor because they do not have jobs. Yet today, not only is the number of employed in America lower than it was when Barack Obama took office, but household income is also down. “Grover Cleveland is looking like a genius in comparison,” writes Kevin. Read more here:
The inequality police are worried that we are living in a new Gilded Age. We should be so lucky: Between 1880 and 1890, the number of employed Americans increased by more than 13 percent, and wages increased by almost 50 percent. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the Barack Obama years will not match that record; the number of employed Americans is lower today than it was when he took office, and household income is down. Grover Cleveland is looking like a genius in comparison.
The inequality-based critique of the American economy is a fundamentally dishonest one, for a half a dozen or so reasons at least. Claims that the (wicked, wicked) “1 percent” saw their incomes go up by such and such an amount over the past decade or two ignore the fact that different people compose the 1 percent every year, and that 75 percent of the super-rich households in 1995 were in a lower income group by 2005. “The 3 million highest-paying jobs in America paid a lot more in 2005 than did the 3 million highest-paying jobs in 1995” is a very different and considerably less dramatic claim than “The top 1 percent of earners in 1995 saw their household incomes go up radically by 2005.” But the former claim is true and the latter is not.
Paul Krugman, who persists in Dickensian poverty, barely making ends meet between six-figure sinecures, is a particularly energetic scourge of the rich, and he is worried about conspicuous consumption: “For many of the rich, flaunting is what it’s all about. Living in a 30,000 square foot house isn’t much nicer than living in a 5,000 square foot house; there are, I believe, people who can really appreciate a $350 bottle of wine, but most of the people buying such things wouldn’t notice if you substituted a $20 bottle, or maybe even a Trader Joe’s special.” In an earlier piece on the same theme, he urged higher taxes as a way to help the rich toward virtue: “While chiding the rich for their vulgarity may not be as offensive as lecturing the poor on their moral failings, it’s just as futile. Human nature being what it is, it’s silly to expect humility from a highly privileged elite. So if you think our society needs more humility, you should support policies that would reduce the elite’s privileges.” That is, seize their money before they order the 1982 Margaux.
I live in the same city as Donald Trump, so the existence of rich people with toxic taste is not exactly a Muppet News Flash for me. But poor people are not poor because rich people are rich, nor vice versa. Very poor people are generally poor because they do not have jobs, and taking away Thurston Howell III’s second yacht is not going to secure work for them. Nobody has ever been able to satisfactorily answer the question for me: How would making Donald Trump less rich make anybody else better off?