Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Friday, July 16, 2004

That 70's show
Written by: Beck

If you pay any attention to politics at all, you've heard people say things which insinuate either that we're worse off today than we were decades ago, or that the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest Americans continues to get wider.  It's complete bullshit; nevertheless, people don't tire of saying it. 
First of all, about the widening gap between poor and wealthy... poor people don't have any money to speak of.  They didn't in 1970, they don't today.  Basically, those living in poverty make enough to survive (otherwise they'd be dead instead of being impoverished) and no more (otherwise they wouldn't be in poverty).  The rich get richer because the economy continues to grow and because the hardest working people are going to be more successful than the "average" worker.  As everyone gets richer, the spectrum widens as a natural consequence.  This concept is not complicated, but people still completely and utterly fail to grasp it year after year.  Don't be one of those people.
Then there's the whole Two Americas thing which Waffles Kedwards keeps yammering about.  The idea here is that the middle class is shrinking, and but for a few of the wealthiest at the top, people are generally getting poorer.  Tell me, have you observed this?  Do things seem worse to you?  Consider the words of Vermont "Independent" (in this case, socialist) congressional representative Bernie Sanders from last year:

From the end of World War II until the 1970s the middle class in the United States expanded as millions of workers earned higher wages and saw their standard of living improve. As the middle class grew stronger, the gap between the rich and the poor declined and the U.S. became, in a very important sense, a more democratic nation.

In fact, "the great middle class" of the United States became the envy of the world. Tragically, all of that has changed. Today, the United States is reverting back to the economic picture of the 1920s -- the "gilded age" in which a handful of families held extraordinary wealth while most Americans struggled hard just to keep their heads above water.
Again, utter bullshit.  Arnold Kling, writing for Tech Central Station, has penned a thorough assault on this empty rhetoric exposing it for the half-truths and full-lies that it is.

What disappeared between 1970 and today was not the middle class but the lower class...

Given these statistics, what explains the fact that, adjusted for inflation, the pay of the lowest-wage workers has not increased much over the past thirty years? There are a number of factors involved, but I suspect that the largest component of the explanation is a shift in the composition of the low-wage work force. In the 1970's, many of the people at the bottom of the wage scale were heads of households. Today, many low-wage workers are providing second or third incomes to families.

The important point to bear in mind is that "the bottom fifth of the wage distribution" does not represent some permanent group of people. Instead, it signifies the earnings of workers who at that time have the lowest levels of skills and experience. My college-age daughters, doing temporary clerical work, are in the bottom fifth. But even if the income of the bottom fifth were to stagnate over the next twenty years, my daughters will earn higher incomes as they acquire valuable knowledge...

Furthermore, Americans work many fewer days than they did a century ago. Using as a benchmark a 365 day work-year, Fogel calculates that in 1880 on average male household head worked 8.5 hours per day, but only 4.7 hours per day in 1995. With less time spent working and somewhat better health, total leisure available has more than tripled, from 1.8 hours per day to 5.8 hours per day...

In 1875, roughly 3/4 of consumption was on basic necessities -- food (49 percent), clothing (12 percent) and housing plus consumer durables (12 percent). By 1995, these necessities accounted for only 13 percent of consumption. Able to acquire the basic necessities with less than one-third of the labor formerly required, households have dramatically increased leisure. In addition, the share of consumption of services has gone up, including education (from 1 percent in 1875 to 5 percent in 1995) and health care (from 1 percent to 9 percent)...

Quality of life is improving at least as dramatically as longevity. Fogel reports that the average number of chronic conditions per U.S. male aged 60-64 fell from 5.6 in 1900 to 1.6 in the mid 1990's. This represents an average annual drop of 1.3 percent. The rate of decline reached 1.7 percent per year from 1982-1999, and Fogel notes that some evidence suggests that even within that time span the improvement was greatest in the most recent years.

The reality is that neither the rise in health care expenditures nor the standard of living of working Americans represents a problem. The false portrayal of these issues by the Left is more likely to provoke a crisis than to solve one.
Be sure to skim through the article itself for a well arranged pile of rather interesting statistics.  The simple truth of the matter is that we have the wealthiest poor people in the world.
(Hat tip: The Shallow End of the Gene Pool & Protein Wisdom)

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