Happy New Year, middle class. Now let’s have a serious discussion.
After the electoral shellacking the Democrats took in November, Senator Chuck Schumer (D, Govt.) said the Democrats should propose more middle-class-oriented programs to try to win back the core: white, working-class voters.
Middle-class income is said to be down, and the middle class is said to be upset. But it’s not clear that the first statement is true, or that the second statement is important — except electorally.
Meanwhile poverty persists, after fifty years of poverty programs. There are two kinds of poor people: the really poor, people described as the “underclass” (perhaps the bottom 4 to 10 percent of all people classified as poor), who live terrible lives, lives without family, skills, incentives, or hope. They are in desperate need, and far more so than people who might be called the “statistically poor,” people who have TVs, air conditioning, PlayStations, one car or maybe two, a counterful of kitchen gadgets, too much food — and a fistful of enervating government handouts that ensure they will never have the satisfaction of being self-supporting adults.
There is, of course, only so much government can do about serious poverty: it is a conservative tenet that not all problems can be solved, by government or anyone else. Even so, that is not a justification for ignoring the plight of the poor, notwithstanding the admonition that they will always be with us. Nor does our inability to cure poverty mean it is impossible to alleviate it: we have witnessed a breathtaking decline in poverty around the world because of the spread of free-market ideas — that is, by structural means, not by charitable works.
If government has any function at all, beyond protecting us from enemies foreign and domestic (preeminently Rush, Fox News, and the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy), surely constructing a welfare system that does more for the poor than special-interest legislation does for the sugar growers — and a thousand other groups that have learned how to farm the Congress — should be the top priority.
The much-pitied, and too much caterwauling, or caterwauled over, middle class is in fact not so badly off after all. Their income may be down a few percentage points, though that is not clear. Mark J. Perry points out that one reason they may have less income than they used to is that they work less than they used to. They may work less because government programs like Obamacare discourage employers from paying workers for more than 29 hours a week. And they may work less because they are older. In addition, “households” have less income these days because many of them have only one wage earner instead of two — partly because so many women have been liberated from the oppression of marriage and economic dependence on men.
Some of the articles commenting on stagnant or decreased income emphasize that the rich are getting a larger slice of the “national income,” which means those articles are really just excuses for banging the fairness drum.
But life will never be fair, as St. John of Hyannisport, taking a much needed break from the exertions of the flesh, pointed out years ago, and liberals and everyone else will simply have to get used to it. Wise middle-class parents tell their children that life isn’t fair — and they should be glad of it.
More interesting than the slightly lower income of the middle class, or the disparity between their income and the income of Obama’s friends, is the style of life that most of the middle class enjoys today.
Income may be important. But wealth, broadly defined, is more important. Middle-class people, like almost everyone else in this country, today live far better, far richer, lives than most rich people lived only a few decades ago. They live longer, and in bigger spaces, and have better and more abundant food than our parents had, and they have more graphic pornography; they live in air-conditioned homes, drive safer automobiles, enjoy limitless online gambling and dating; fly in safer and cheaper airplanes; watch more amazing television; enjoy texting, sexting, and Mexican food; and experience far, far better medical care, as evidenced by a cornucopia of pharmaceutical discoveries, including antibiotics, Viagra, the smallpox vaccine, statins, Cialis, and treatments for venereal diseases that themselves didn’t even exist a generation ago; as well as an abundance of surgical procedures such as heart transplants and computer-assisted robotic laparoscopy — not to mention m2fgrs (male to female gender reassignment surgery).
Put differently, what’s the problem — other than that Obama’s friends have much, much more money than middle-class people have, and probably more wives too?
Meanwhile, the really poor (and a sizeable segment of the statistically poor) languish, for a number of reasons, but primarily because of rampant illegitimacy, which, like homosexuality, can no longer be objected to in polite, sophisticated (read “liberal”) society. The poor also accept welfare with a sense of entitlement instead of shame. And they tend not to work. Is this news? Who would dispute that welfare is a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit?
So, to alleviate poverty, we have to stigmatize illegitimacy, welfare, and laziness. That is not going to happen in Washington.
But it can happen in the states, which means we need to make a structural change in the delivery of welfare if we are going to alleviate the plight of the poor. Feeling their pain won’t do. Poverty programs must be run by the states, or, preferably, at the local, community level.
Only then will the underclass poor have a chance at a better life. Welfare promoted by individuals and families, community charities, service organizations, and churches — priests too? Oh, the horror! — could support the deserving poor, and not the others, not, e.g., men who knock up a girl a week. At least St. John was … prudent. Word would get around in an afternoon. Hunger is a great teacher.
The states could also surely do a better job of assisting the rest of the poor, who are now supported by eighty programs run by Washington at a cost that amounts to more than $700 billion a year. It takes an army of bureaucrats to dispense that much money, an army that predictably and regularly votes for its employer, Chuck Schumer’s party of government.
But effecting a monumental change in the country’s welfare system requires votes. Where will they come from?
From the middle class, out of their charity for the poor, and in return for eliminating bank bailouts and big-business bennies like the Ex-Im Bank, as well as several decades of regulations. The deal (raise and double, Chuck) is that the regulations that afflict middle-class businesses, as well as the businesses that hire middle-class workers, would be cut so extensively the Washington Post would have a Kool-Aid party. Decimating Washington’s bureaucratic domains could make the middle class richer than Croesus — and think what he would have given for just a handful of middle-class staples: say, ten rolls of Cottonelle, a tall skinny soy vanilla doublecaf latte, and a bottle of Levitra.
As President Reagan said, we waged a war on poverty, and poverty won. The numbers show no net decrease in poverty since the sixties. Lyndon Johnson’s goal was to cure poverty and make the poor self-sufficient. That goal has not only not been achieved, it has been abandoned by modern liberals, whose continuing devotion to their post-LBJ war on poverty is one of the seven scandals of the modern world.
The liberals have had their way of dealing with poverty for fifty years. But still, the numbers remain unchanged, and, still, the underclass poor live terrible lives, without family, skills, incentives, or hope of even dreaming about the American Dream. It’s time to try something new.
Daniel Oliver is Chairman of the Board of Education and Research Institute and Senior Director of White House Writers Group in Washington, DC. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Ronald Reagan, he was Executive Editor and subsequently Chairman of the Board of National Review. Email Daniel Oliver at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com