Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is the Middle Class disappearing?

Politicians on the left love to bemoan the "disappearing" middle class. The theory goes, because a small cadre of elites horde a disproportionate amount of wealth, the rest of us writhe in poverty.

Observationally, this makes no sense. I am middle class. The vast majority of people I know are middle class. This stands to reason, since my age correlates to middle class earning potential.

But hey, maybe I live in some sort of Minnesota conservative cocoon. But here's a fact that throws a wrench in the whole enterprise of middle class disappearance: Median household income in America is the second highest in the world. Adjusting for various indices, the median household in America live better than that of every country other than Luxembourg.

I think we can all agree Luxembourg is a bit of an odd cat. It is, literally, ruled by a Duke. It has an army of 800. It's also a tax haven, thanks to a lack of banking transparency. It is basically a suburb of three other countries. We cannot unilaterally replicate the Luxembourg model.

So, if we are to believe the middle class is disappearing, we must then assume very few residents are close to the median. Half the country is decidedly in the money, at the expense of the other half.

If I grant this is true (it isn't) then this means nearly half of our households are quite rich. Considering the lower 50% includes former felons, drug addicts, and those who are flatly unwilling to work, the odds of anyone with the wherewithal to read my blog being (or becoming) rich are quite good.

Of course, half the country isn't rich. Most of the country is, in fact middle class in a nation with the most expansive, wealthiest middle class in the world.

Ironically, were it not so, the disappearing middle class bit would lose all appeal. It works best if, rather than diminishing, the middle class is expanding, so as to encompass the vast majority of American voters. In other words, most of us are so close to the median, and will remain so for life, we lack for upward mobility.

Therein lies the secret appeal of the argument. Conceptually, nobody cares if they are middle class, or if there is a middle class. However, almost every person of comfortable means considers themselves to be middle class, including the demonstrably wealthy. I've slept in 6th bedrooms of those who claim to be middle class.

And of course, nobody wants to disappear, or feel as though the lifestyle they enjoy is soon to be a relic. What Obama and other politicians are really saying is you, the voter, are disappearing. The drumbeat of news stories highlighting the massive fortunes of this or that elite only adds to this impression.

But the impression doesn't square with the facts. Essentially, if there is a way to make economic life better for Joe Schmoe than our system, the world hasn't discovered it.

If we want to improve life for the middle class, we could look to the only other countries that are even close to our median income. Luxembourg has an extremely unregulated banking system and low taxes. Norway might as well have "drill, baby, drill" written into its Constitution.

Occupy that.

In reality, the left is principally concerned with inequality. They believe a country composed of billionaires and the homeless alike in fundamentally unjust, and take it as an article of faith government is compelled to make this not so.

But forging new solutions is risky. Asking government to socialize health care, banking, medicine etc... is inviting an intrusion into our economy (to say nothing of our liberties) that could end quite badly. It invariably requires sacrifice from the middle class.

That's a tough sell to the richest nation in the world. And so it behooves the self-styled innovators to tell a nation of internet-connected, overfed, new-car-buying voters all they have worked for is being usurped by a nefarious elite.

Historically, aggressive efforts to make the very rich pay their fair share (which is code for however much an opportunistic politician demands of them) have either destroyed the middle class, or made scapegoats of certain races, dissidents or intellectuals. Would that happen in America? Maybe, maybe not.

Is it worth the risk, if we have the opportunity to end poverty? Maybe, maybe not.

But rather than pretend large-scale government programs are aimed at restoring the middle class, the left should forthrightly make its case. Those who internalize the narrative and become indignant at the betrayal of the middle class lifestyle are either ignorant or dishonest.

In short, the middle class isn't disappearing. Don't worry about it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's bizarre for you is NoMi normal

Tonight, some entrepreneurial gentlemen, clearly enamored of the nascent snowfall, took the time to gash "FUCK YOU DYC" up and down our sidewalk.

Now, that doesn't strike me as a common sentiment. After, all, that configuration of letters (DYC) doesn't even play in Scrabble.

An open-ended "Fuck you" makes some sense. These are tough times. Getting all angry in my sidewalk snow is a possible byproduct.

This struck me as the behavior of a gang*, and was otherwise an uninteresting revelation, and so I destroyed it, what with my feet.

Having done so, I was greeted by two screaming girls, one likely 14, the other eight. Both repeating "oh, my God". Then moving on.

So I called 911. I live in Minneapolis, and the girls were black, so do the math w/r/t futility of that particular act. Were they white, there would be a damn SWAT team involved, but I can't very well say they are white, now can I?

Yes, the whole thing could be a coincidence, but ominous writings plus ominous screaming children seems rather like a thing.

So that was that. Now to the asterisk.

*- The whole business of white people attributing this or that behavior to gang violence is old hat. I get it. The knee jerk reaction is to assume I'm being hyper-serious** and whatnot.

**- To which, per the above, are gangs really all that serious? I mean, writing vulgarities in the snow is sort of in their wheelhouse. It's not like membership requires an IQ test. Quite the opposite, in fact, I would guess.

**- (cont'd) Gangs are, in essence, a loose coalition of the violently retarded. This isn't the Sicilian mob. Why shouldn't I attribute juvenile to those who are juvenile?

** - Gang or no gang, some of these idiots have guns. You don't have to be serious or interesting to kill someone with a gun. Just ask Cuba.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Krueless

Paul Krugman is a cynical writer. He is, by all accounts, a brilliant economic mind. However, his opinion pieces are notoriously bracing and shallow.

There is good reason for this. Economic analysis isn't necessarily glorious stuff. It doesn't net you a high six-figure salary or bit parts in Jonah Hill movies. So, we get this.

Think about what it takes to be a viable Republican candidate today.

You have to have extensive political experience. The top three candidates, Gingrich, Romney and Paul, each has a pretty extensive track record of... Oh, that's not what he's talking about.

You have to denounce Big Government and high taxes without alienating the older voters who were the key to G.O.P. victories last year
Yep, parties have different, even disparate, constituencies. Krugman hits it on the head.

— and who, even as they declare their hatred of government, will balk at any hint of cuts to Social Security and Medicare (death panels!).

See, there are two types of Krugman op-eds. The first is where he offers a half-assed pseudo-economic "analysis" of some chart or trend. The second is red meat that keeps readers intrigued enough to read the stuff with the maths in it. That's okay, because he blogs for a small-town paper in Western Montana, right? Death panels!

And you also have to denounce President Obama,
If you're going to run against him, you might as well. I guess. Nobody's really tried this strategy before, denouncing the incumbent, so we'll see how it works.

who enacted a Republican-designed health reform and killed Osama bin Laden, as a radical socialist who is undermining American security.
Or just declare he's a crappy, unqualified president with bad ideas that haven't worked. That seems to be the general sentiment, no? To the point, didn't the left accuse Bush of being a radical arch-conservative for signing a Ted Kennedy education bill and pursuing a foreign policy course? How is this different?

Mitt Romney embodies the first option. He’s not a stupid man; he knows perfectly well, to take a not incidental example, that the Obama health reform is identical in all important respects to the reform he himself introduced in Massachusetts — but that doesn’t stop him from denouncing the Obama plan as a vast government takeover that is nothing like what he did.

Actually, he hasn't done that. At all. That's why he is being criticized for his health care plan. This is the primary criticism of Romney from conservative circles, and Krugman pretends it doesn't exist. Strikes me as cynical.

He presumably knows how to read a budget, which means that he must know that defense spending has continue (sic) to rise under the current administration

It's a bit petty pointing out the typo, since this is just an internal newsletter for the IT department of a steel consortium.

He isn’t a stupid man — but he seems to play one on TV.

If true, there will be an authenticity gap, should he face Obama in the general.

Unfortunately from his point of view, however, his acting skills leave something to be desired, and his insincerity shines through. So the base still hungers for someone who really, truly believes what every candidate for the party’s nomination must pretend to believe. Yet as I said, the only way to actually believe the modern G.O.P. (sic) catechism is to be completely clueless.

Catechism? Above, Krugman asserted GOPers are conflicted. Now we have a catechism? Does Krugman know what a catechism is? Here's how I envision this last sentence looked before Krugman sent it off to his editors.

Yet as I said, the only way to actually believe the modern G.O.P. (PK: ed. please insert religious sounding word here) is to be completely clueless (PK: ed. is it G.O.P. or GOP? Someone please check. I can't be bothered)
Since Krugman's editor apparently couldn't be bothered, either, I'll rewrite this sentence so that looks less like it was written by a homeless alcoholic:
You have to be completely clueless to embrace the modern GOP doctrine.
Much better.
Think in particular of Rick Perry, a conservative true believer who seemingly had everything it took to clinch the nomination — until he opened his mouth.

I agree with this analysis, such as it is. Just annoyed by the use of the em-dash.

Many observers seem surprised that Mr. Gingrich’s, well, colorful personal history isn’t causing him more problems, but they shouldn’t be. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, conservatives often seem inclined to accept that tribute, voting for candidates who publicly espouse conservative moral principles whatever their personal behavior.

This is a very convoluted way of saying conservatives will vote for hypocrites, which doesn't really have anything to do with the rest of the piece. It does nothing to indicate Republicans are clueless. It's utterly gratuitous.

(PK: ed. please insert a paragraph about what this says about current state of the G.O.P. I have a plane to catch)
There we go.

Did I mention that David Vitter is still in the Senate?
Yep, and you attributed it to this:

Because where liberals see gross hypocrisy, conservatives see men doing the Lord’s work — which partially excuses their own failings...
To which: Gore. Mansions.
And my sense is that he’s also very good at doublethink — that even when he knows what he’s saying isn’t true, he manages to believe it while he’s saying it.
To which: Glass. Houses.

Of course, given the terrible economic picture and the tendency of voters to blame whoever holds the White House for bad times, even a deeply flawed G.O.P. nominee might very well win the presidency. But then what?

The economy will turn around. Paul Krugman will attribute said growth to the stimulus Obama passed four years prior, and argue we would have seen a faster turnaround if only there had been more stimulus. I guarantee you this is what will happen.

The Washington Post quotes an unnamed Republican adviser who compared what happened to Mr. Cain, when he suddenly found himself leading in the polls, to the proverbial tale of the dog who had better not catch that car he’s chasing. “Something great and awful happened, the dog caught the car. And of course, dogs don’t know how to drive cars. So he had no idea what to do with it.”

I like that the unnamed adviser:

a) Felt compelled to explain his metaphor.
b) Did so inaccurately*.

If the dog actually catches the car — the actual job of running the U.S. government —

I like that Krugman feels the need to explain his metaphor.

And what will happen then?

I just answered this quest... Oh, you're done.

Krugman knows his guy is in power and the economy has gone all to hell, right? To strain the metaphor, it's like Jeff Daniels trading the poochmobile for a vespa in Dumb and Dumber.

See, Jim Carrey's character is Krugman, Jeff Daniels is Obama, the poochmobile was the American economy he traded for a vespa. It's a metaphor for how everyone who disagrees with me is a dumb-dumb.

Or something. What do I know? I'm cluelessly supporting the G.O.P. catechism.

* - Dogs chase any number of things they do not know how to operate. This is unremarkable. If they catch a car, they are liable to be run over, is the idea. I mean, all of Krugman's fans had already posted this to Facebook and Twitter by this point, so mission accomplished, but the entire conclusion of this piece makes no real sense.