Over the past several years, the top 1% have received nearly a quarter of all income gains, while those in the bottom 90% are fighting for less than half. It’s an issue that the GOP would like to see go away. There’s little chance of that happening. Income inequality, caused by the most egregious capitalist excesses in ninety years, is the defining issue of the 2016 election. It’s not just because Bernie Sanders is speaking out, either. Here is a quote from an article appearing last fall in Fortune magazine: “There’s evidence that rising inequality and many other intractable social problems are related. Not only is rising inequality bad for business, it’s bad for society, too.”
Keep in mind that Fortune is a business journal. Its target audience includes wealthy CEOs, investment bankers and industrialists who have benefited the most from income inequality. This issue has also been covered in similar publications, such as Forbes and Bloomberg Businessweek. If these publications are acknowledging the problem, the political party of the rich and powerful who read them cannot ignore it. Instead, like the great Pharaohs of Egypt, they are becoming “Kings of Denial,” telling us all that the problem of income inequality doesn’t really exist.
In order to sell that particular bill of goods to the voters, the GOP needs some “credibility,” or at least something resembling it. The Republicans have gone into overdrive, calling on conservative think tanks and right-wing neoliberal economists to convince us all that the Great American Middle Class is doing just fine and dandy – and they just need to stop whining and thank the GOP for all their prosperity over the past generation.
Among their sources, the GOP cites a recent study by Martin Feldstein of Project Syndicate. Currently an economics professor at Harvard University, Feldstein was chief economist for the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. To Feldman, current studies on income inequality and the decimation of the middle class fail to consider employee benefits such as health insurance, government programs such as food stamps, and falling federal income tax rates (these went from 19% to 11.5% over the thirty-year period between 1980 and 2010). Feldman also cites falling prices for consumer goods such as appliances and electronics.
Of course, Feldman makes no mention of the exploding costs of basic necessities like food, shelter and energy. Nor does he mention the ongoing rise of health care costs, state and local taxes, and transportation. Nowhere is there a single reference to the cost of education or the debt burden imposed on college graduates of the past generation, or the fact that the GOP constantly is decimating social programs.
American author Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” People like Feldman, Lawrence and Pethakoukis are very good at employing the latter. But will those “statistics” help the GOP in this election? It’s a remote possibility, but a highly improbable one. As long as the 99% continues to struggle while seeing the 1% prosper so handsomely at their expense, they’ll be focusing on the contents of their wallets, the increasing hours they have spent at their jobs, and paychecks that just don’t cover what they used to. No set of statistics is going to convince them that they haven’t been getting the shaft for the past thirty-five years.