Modern Republicans have succeeded in promoting a narrative of being for the middle class in America when in fact they are the single largest enemy of it. Here I will explore a number of points that combine to form an extremely clear picture of what they truly stand for.
1. First Principles
One political philosophy in this country is one of each person being responsible, in some form, for the happiness and success of everyone else in the world. This does not mean that each person is *personally* responsible for another person’s individual failings, but that as a member of the human race each of us is responsible for each other member of the human race. This fundamental belief leads to specific policy around punishment, taxation, social safety nets, and compensation. In general it supports policies on such matters that give credit to advantages and give blame to disadvantages when looking at failure and success. This is not to say that it removes the role of personal responsibility from decisions, but it stresses external factors and sees those factors as primary in shaping outcomes.
As a result, policy to people who embrace such a belief system should aim to control these variables for the positive, e.g. healthy upbringing, quality and equal education, ample opportunity to succeed, etc. This would manifest as a group of like-minded people coming together globally to form a government aimed at improving the variables for all humans. The outome of this would supposedly be that more poeple would have quality upbringings, better educations, fewer traumatic experiences growing up, and would end up being happier, more productive members of society. Crime and poverty would fall, and the efforts of the population would then be focused on scientific exploration, the arts and humanities, etc.
Another political philosophy says that people are ultimately responsible for their own outcomes, and that too much stress is being given to external factors. This model has humans ultimately being in charge of their own fates, and thus any social policies aimed at fixing the environment to make them more successful is 1) naiive, and 2) wasteful. Under such a philosophy people are basically going to become what they are: if they are lazy they will be unsuccessful, and if they are smart, hard-working, and ambitious they will be successful. Policies aimed at equalizing them are both foolish and immoral. The best society can do in such a situation, proponents would argue, is to allow for maximum freedom for people to become what they are, and without unnatural intervention from government and society.
Under this second model, if one group chooses to follow one god and get one type of education and pursue one type of work, they should be allowed to do so. And if another group wants to have different options in those three areas, then they should be free to do so, and government should allow them to separate and thrive on their own. The government’s involvement should only prevent one group from violating key rights across groups, but other than that they should stay out of most everything. In short, let people make their own choices, build the communities they want, and let nature and the markets determine which is best. And whoever turns out to be the best, let them enjoy the rewards without being burdened by the failure of another model.
2. Applicaiton of First Principles
Given these two primary principles it’s possible to evaluate policy topics using principles rather than specific policy rhetoric. Taxation, for example, becomes a simple matter of what is best for the whole (for the first group), and what’s most fair to a deserving individual for the second group–the difference being how much individual responsibility the successful person has for creating the wealth they have (see the “we built it” debate).
For healthcare it is the same: one side thinks we should be letting the market system create various options naturally, i.e. whatever options it creates are naturally good ones, and people should purchase what they 1) choose to, and 2) are able to. If someone chooses not to purchase insurance, or if they’re not able to get a Cadillac plan, then that’s on them. It should not be the responsibility of those who can afford it to support those who can’t, and attempts to force that to happen are not only unrealistic and wasteful, but also immoral.
Another clear distinction that becomes visible using these principles is with education. One system aims for equality and the elevation of everyone at the expense of everyone. Another aims to provide maximum choice to various groups to choose a “Cadillac plan” (see prep school) if they don’t want to go to a failing local public school. One group sees this as an eroding of the overall well-being, and thus horribly destructive, while the other sees this as another instance of the concept they embrace completely: the ability for like-minded people to separate themselves from others and do their own thing, and to be left alone and not judged for doing so. They argue that if they believe in certain principles that are taught in those separate schools, and they can afford to send their children there, then it’s absolutely American to allow that to happen.
Now expand that out to gun control and a myriad of other topics and you’ll see the same thread. Always return to first principles when thinking about and debating these points so as to not lose your way in the rhetoric and emotion of the moment.
3. Mapping the Needs of the Middle Class
Since the question at hand is whether the policies of “the right” are against the middle class, we should try to put down what we think the goals of the middle class are. I submit that they look something like the following:
- Primarily, the goal is to be able to live a good life raising a family, with a reasonable work-life balance. This means being able to work to live, not having to live to work.
- This would manifest as one person in the household working and the other staying with the children, the person working not having to spend too long at work
- Work would provide a good enough salary for a family to live off of, retire off of, pay for childrens’ college/trade schools, etc.
- Work would provide ample vacation time, work providing ample sick time, emergency time, a safe work envioronment, etc.
- People who want to do the minimum of solid work should get x amount of compensation (see above), and people who are extra ambitious/smart/etc. should be promoted and rewarded with extra pay.
- Some people (deservedly) getting extra pay should never affect the ability of the job to provide the features laid out above.
- In short, a hard-working middle class family should be able to do the right thing in terms of a basic education (including trade school) and then be able to support a family doing all the basics for a healthy family life, e.g.: educations for their kids, modest/decent family vacations, a decent/modest retirement, etc.
You are unlikely to find anyone in the middle class, or even in other classes, who finds this unreasonable as a set of requirements for a healthy middle class. If it sounds strange to you that’s becuase of how broken our current system is. This is what America used to have. It’s what America promised us. This is the baseline of American success we should be striving for, meaning that America should not be considered successful if a middle class like this is not possible.
4. Obstacles to the American Middle Class
So, given those requirements for a healthy, thriving middle class, what is preventing us from acheiving it? What stops it from being possible? And, perhaps even more interstingly, which of the first principles above is more inline with the goals of the middle class we have described?
The first thing to understand here is a tangible difference between the so-called “right” and “left” in America with respect to who each blames for the destruction of America’s core class. In general, the right believes that *government* is the reason that the middle class doesn’t have the attributes described above. This line of reasoning goes like so: Government penalizes job creators, encourages complacency and laziness, and generally depresses the ability for nature (thriving markets) to take its course of creating prosperity. In other words, the free markets create jobs naturally, and those markets are driven by exceptional people who happen to be fairly wealthy. So the answer is to let people who make lots of money keep the money they make, so that they can go on creating more and more businesses, which in turn will have to employ more and more people. But they cannot do this when they are constantly restrained by misguided government policy aimed at punishing the very people who create the jobs.
The “left” believes that it is not the government doing most of the damage, but instead greed in the form of the extremely wealthy and the extremely large businesses they make their money through. This argument goes like so: as a large business the goals of maximizing profits and enabling the American middle class to have the attributes listed above are outright *contradictory*. They are not consistent with each other. Quite simply, if you are the leader of a company like Walmart and you go to your board of directors and you show them the middle class objectives listed above and proclaim that you’re going to enable that to happen because it’s good for the middle class and good for America, *you will be fired.* The goal of business is to maximize profit for the business and its stakeholders–NOT to support the success of some larger, separate entity like “the middle class”, or “America”. As such, wages being cut, pensions being discontinued, the widening of the gap between worker and executive pay, all make perfect sense when seen through the eyes of a business. But this doesn’t make it right. In short, the goal of market-driven business is to maximize profit, and this is generally considered at a very short scale, i.e. how to grow the business over the next quarter or three quarters, or 10 quarters. The types of decisions that allow that to happen are precisely in opposition to the goals laid out for the middle class. As such, it is a fixation on corporate profit that most harms the middle class–not government.
Those are the arguments. Which makes more sense to you?
5. Concepts and Data Points
- The Republicans are in favor of tax cuts for the richest Americans. Quite simply, and this is easily verified, the middle class will pay more taxes under Romney than under Obama. Do NOT listen to me. Look it up for yourself. Look at your income, marital status, etc. and calculate what you’ll pay under each plan. The middle class pays less under Obama.
- The right is voting for a massive tax break for those making the most money. They are basically telling the middle class, right to their faces, that if the middle class pays more, and the super-rich pays less, then it will ultimately help the middle class. That is the argument that the middle class must accept from the right.
- Outsourcing jobs overseas is a perfect example of how corporate profit is directly opposed to the needs of a healthy middle class. As already discussed, businesses do what they need to do to become more efficient. If that means cutting American jobs and sending them to India or the Phillipines at the expense of the middle class, it still happens. The concept of “what is good for America” is not part of large businesses’ discussions at the CEO level. What they are paid to do is reduce costs and increase profit…period. If that means eliminating American jobs then that’s what needs to happen.
- Given the previous point, let’s look at how American corporations are doing. Better than ever. American corporations are THRIVING. Their elimination of pensions, their failure to raise wages despite growing costs, and their willingness to ship jobs overseas has yielded precisely what it was supposed to: Increased profits. What would we expect that to do to the American middle class? Again, PRECISELY what it did do. Basically, none of the outcomes should be a surprise: Corporations are doing better than ever, along with the super-rich behind them, while the middle class is in its worst shape ever.
- Regarding the housing crisis that caused the recent recession, it was the right that pushed for banking deregulation. That deregulation is what allowed extremely dangerous loans to be made and ultimately lead to the recession when they were defaulted on. Once again, this was business maximizing profits after successfully arguing that there was too much government involved. So they go the regulations relaxed under the guise of freeing up business to create wealth for everyone, and instead created massive amounts of money for very few and destroyed the wealth of millions in the middle class.
- States that voted for McCain actually use far more tax dollars than states that voted for Obama. This means that despite all the talk of fiscal conservation, these states actually violate the very principles they promote. It is pure hypocracy, and should cause any thinking person who supports the “right” to think carefully about their positions.
- Red states have higher obestity rates, which in turn leads to massively higher healthcare costs.
- Red states have much higher incindences of domestic violence.
- Red states are far behind in education.
- Red states use far more porn.
- Red states have far more infidelity.
- Red states have more crime.