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In New Geography, Joel Kotkin proposes a better way to look at what’s happening in America:
Today America’s class structure is increasingly ossified, and this affects not only minorities, who are hit disproportionately, but also many whites, who constitute more than 40 percent of the nation’s poor. Upward mobility has stalled under both Bush and Obama, not only for minorities but for vast swaths of working class and middle class Americans. Increasingly, it’s not the color of one’s skin that determines one’s place in society, but access to education and capital, often the inherited variety.
Worries about upward mobility have been mounting for a generation, and according to Pew, only one-third of Americans currently believe the next generation will do better than them. Indeed, in some surveys pessimism about the next generation stands at an all-time high.
But race is not the main determinant in looking to the future. The greatest dismay, in fact, is felt among working class and middle class whites, who are generally much more pessimistic about the future for themselves than are either African-Americans or Hispanics.
So it’s not race, but class — that word that Americans recoil from, reflexively — that’s behind the current uneasiness, pessimism, and even anger in the American electorate. The idea that the system is stacked against you if you’re not born into the right social class is incredibly powerful: it’s as if all our anxieties about taxes, government spending, crony capitalism, and wealthy, lefty social preferences all converge and ripple out of the same place.
Conservatives don’t like to talk about class:
Republicans, particularly those closest to Wall Street, also seem to have a problem even admitting the existence of the class issue. Conservatives economists repeatedly downplay ever greater insecurity about jobs, the affordability of decent housing and generally lower net worths for all but the highly affluent. Convinced that any discussion about these issues constitutes unseemly “class warfare,” the right’s intellectual leadership seems incapable of addressing these concerns.
But also because the way to really address the inequities in the current system seem to require that conservatives and Republicans be willing to look at things like the tax code, at the way capital gains taxes are calculated and imposed, and maybe at the way the government spends money, which right now seems to favor either gigantic corporations with long arms in DC or insane progressive leftist commies and government employee unions. It’s easy to see why nobody’s itching to do that.
Here’s what worries me: we already know that the American voter is easily persuaded that government spending is an acceptable solution. They proved it twice when they voted for Obama; yes, yes, I know he’s currently unpopular, but anyone who thinks that this means that Big Government spending is on the wane is living in Fantasyland. So if the American voter is still wobbly when it comes to spending, what kind of spending should we be engaging in?
(And I’m going to duck quickly because I know some of my Ricochet friends are about to throw a chair at me… But still: a thought experiment.)
Kotkin goes out on a limb, here, which will probably raise the hackles of solid small-government folk:
Ultimately, the best way to address class concerns, as well as those of minorities, would be to spark strong economic growth, particularly in the energy, manufacturing, and construction sectors, which tend to offer higher wage employment for them. Both Latinos and African-American made their biggest economic strides when the economy was booming under Presidents Reagan and Clinton, both of whom have been criticized for “trickle down” policies.
In the old Democratic Party, from Truman to Clinton, this approach would be an easy sell. A policy that encouraged building new water facilities, expanding domestic energy, manufacturing and construction, particularly single family homes, would have widespread appeal to working and middle class voters. But a growth agenda likely would face much opposition from the president’s green gentry base, who seem perfectly content with an economy that rewards insiders, venture capitalists, and companies that employ few people, largely the best educated and positioned.
I’ll crawl a little bit out on that same limb, along with Kotkin and a few others. If we assume, from a practical standpoint, that the federal government is going to spend money, that the American people who voted for Reagan and Obama still harbor a soft spot for a Big Federal Program, then what?
What would you say about an unapologetic pro-American government, focused on economic growth, middle class income, an end to crony capitalism, border security, a robust military, higher tariffs, and energy independence? It would have been, not too long ago, the Pat Buchanan administration. I’m not saying I agree with it, or would advocate its positions, but — looking at the politics, it makes a certain sense.