Anyone who is a true advocate for the middle class must accept a little class warfare

The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, wrote a position paper arguing that Americans are saving a lot more for retirement than a Pew study showed. The AEI objected to the sort of media reports about the Pew study saying, “Retirement insecurity shows decline of the middle class.”  The AEI argued that this is wrong, but the problem with the AEI’s lengthy response is that it ignored the middle class.  Instead, the AEI just looked at aggregate numbers which include wealthy people who have much more retirement security than the middle class.  Even when the AEI showed everyone all lumped together, the nation still looks mediocre, but if we actually looked at the middle class, retirement security would look much worse.

The AEI objected to the Pew survey which found that only 34% of Americans reported participating in a retirement plan. AEI points out that tax records showed that 46% were actually taking part. That is still pretty dismal, but neither statistic actually sheds much light about middle class retirement insecurity because richer people have a lot more retirement security than the middle class and rich people are harder to survey, so they don’t show up as much in surveys like Pew did.

The AEI loves to talk about the middle class and how much its policies will benefit the middle class, but as is often case, they did a bait and switch and gave misleading evidence about the total rather than the middle. The AEI has an ideological difficulty with giving data about the middle class because they hate class warfare, but if they really prioritized the middle class, that would actually be a form of class warfare. Their stated ethical priorities are in conflict and their compromise is to just talk about the middle class without actually measuring it or even defining it consistently. That way they can say that they are helping the middle class without having to give any actual evidence and they never have to confront any data that might indicate that some of the policies that would help the middle class would be construed as class warfare against the rich by their funders.

Many people at the AEI seem to believe that higher inequality makes the nation more efficient. (This idea is particularly explicit in the recommended reading they cite at the bottom of the linked article.) That might lead them to think that higher inequality would always help the middle class. But there are many examples where lower inequality benefits the middle class and many examples where more equality boosts economic growth too. If they really prioritized the middle class, they would want data about the middle tercile to show what has worked and what hasn’t, but that would be “class warfare”, so they don’t check.

Posted in Inequality, Middle class

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