Sunday, January 12, 2020

Contrary to what the media reports, middle class Americans are surging

By nearly every measure today, we are living in a magnificent time for the American economy. There is a booming stock market fueling trillions of dollars of wealth gains, record low unemployment, 3 percent to 5 percent wage gains, and seven million unfilled jobs. So the recent headline for a CBS report seemed to strain all credulity when it declared, “Two years after Trump tax cuts, middle class Americans are falling behind.” Huh?

This might be the most dishonest news story headline of recent times. As the author of columns that ran a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal and on these pages which clearly documented that the median household income, meaning the middle class, has gained about $5,000 of income in just three years, I knew this headline was fatuous. The undeniable success story of the American economy is the surge in middle class incomes since President Trump took office and his tax cuts took effect, with middle class incomes increasing at least five times faster than under President Obama.

So how in the world did CBS mangle the universally good news to come up with an opposite conclusion? It turns out that there is a classic head fake in the report. The middle class is “falling behind” only relative to the gains of the wealthiest 1 percent. Even though the middle class has had a bigger income boost under Trump than anytime in 20 years, the middle class is allegedly now suffering a decline since the rich saw even faster gains. This appears to be an intentional distortion of economic reality.

Even more misleading is that CBS based its figures on a Congressional Budget Office estimate of what will happen with incomes over the next two years. The Congressional Budget Office also projected three years ago that gross domestic product might be some $600 billion below what it actually is today. This is not exactly an agency with a stellar record at predicting things. Even the CBS figures contradict the headline because the story claims incomes are up at least $4,000 per household for the middle class, adjusted for inflation under Trump. That compares with a $1,000 per household gain in incomes under Obama over eight years.

One critical conclusion of the CBS report is that “income for middle class Americans is growing more slowly than for both top earners and the poor.” But this is only because the tight labor market under Trump has brought about sizable wage gains for those at the bottom. The lowest quintile of Americans have seen some of the biggest percentage gains in income, according to an analysis done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Can someone please explain how these gains for those at the bottom of the income ladder are a bad thing? These complaints are coming from the same voices on the left who obsess about income inequality, which is now declining by some measures. The biggest story of the economy has been upward mobility. The middle class is not falling behind, it is getting richer. Meanwhile, the tax cuts have reduced liabilities each year for the average family with children by about $2,000 a year. Overall median household family incomes have risen by almost 8 percent in just three years under Trump, compared to almost no gains throughout the previous 16 years.

None of this even includes the dramatic increase in middle class wealth during the Trump boom with the stock market up more than 50 percent since his election. This means the 150 million or so Americans in homes with 401(k) plans and other stock holdings are wealthier than they were in 2016. MarketWatch seems to think a roaring stock market only helps the poor. But by the way, the folks who get crushed during a downturn are always the poor and the middle class, as we learned in 2008 and 2009.

Ultimately, there is no truth to the CBS statement that the middle class is falling behind or that the tax cuts under Trump have not worked to raise incomes. Most families are doing much better financially, with 76 percent rating the economy as “pretty good” or “great,” according to CNN. This is what prosperity looks like, and this tide of growth is lifting nearly all boats.



In America, the remembered past is Biblical -- and Trump is at home with that

New Essay at Claremont Review of Books: 'Time Out of Joint'

What makes America different from the Old World? It's easy to draw up a list of doctrinal differences, but not so easy to pin down a uniquely American way of understanding ourselves and the world. We really are different, I argue, in a new review-essay at Claremont Review of Books. I take to task the great historian of the First World War, Christopher Clark, for attempting to identify Donald Trump with wicked reactionary movements of Europe's past. To refute Clark's smear, I delve deeply into American identity.

Claremont (usually behind a paywall) generously has made my essay available here:

Here's an excerpt from my new essay:

The unchanging past of European old-world society does not know time, but only “once upon a time.” Generations come and go, but life remains the same, and the past is identical to the future, blending into a perpetual present. But American time-consciousness leaves this old-world mentality behind and looks forward. This is neatly captured in one of our foundational stories, Washington Irving’s “Rip van Winkle.” Rip goes to sleep in the temporality of “once upon a time”—in Novalis’s enchanted world. He awakes after the American Revolution in a new temporality, in the clear light of the modern world.

* * *

But this American forward motion is not the utopian progressivism that Clark wants to identify with liberalism. Clark’s simple juxtaposition of progressive linear time and the changeless present of traditional society utterly fails to understand American temporality. America does not march toward the end of history, because its founders felt keenly Saint Augustine’s distinction between the heavenly city and the earthly city.

The American journey does not proceed toward the earthly paradise of the progressives, but to a vanishing-point on the horizon. That is why the most impassioned religion can cohabit here with the rule of reason. The American eschaton is not immanent, but beyond the horizon. The American avatar of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim is Huckleberry Finn, who, in true American fashion, concludes his journey by starting a new one, lighting out to the new territory ahead of the others.

Sadly, Clark’s application of the Continental philosophy of time is reductionist and impoverished. That is his fault rather than that of the philosophers. Heidegger’s older contemporary, the great Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig, asserted in 1921 that the Biblical concept of time was the normative case. “Revelation is the first thing to set its mark firmly into the middle of time; only after Revelation do we have an immovable Before and Afterward,” he wrote in The Star of Redemption (1921). “Then there is a reckoning of time independent of the reckoner and the place of reckoning, valid for all the places of the world.”

Rosenzweig never visited the United States or commented on its national character, but his intuition that the Biblical reckoning of time is “valid for all the places of the world” rings true by reference to America in one way and the United Kingdom in another. Biblical time is metaphysically different from the eternal present of primitive society: it begins with the irruption of the one Creator God into history, which sets a marker for past and future, as Rosenzweig observed.

* * *

In Heidegger’s construct, we absorb by mere repetition the heritage that fate has apportioned us. To be entschlossen, or decisive, means to Heidegger submitting ourselves to this fate.

America by contrast adopted the heritage of Israel in an act of religious imagination. The Puritan “errand in the wilderness” with its vision of a new “city upon a hill” adopts the history of Israel as America’s spiritual history, the foundation for a new covenant. That is why America’s remembrance transcends the mere repetition of accumulated habits and experience and becomes instead what Lincoln called “[t]he mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone.”

America looks back, not to a distant past of pagan legends, but to a Biblical history which it has chosen for the backdrop of its journey into a bright and glorious future.

In Germany, by contrast, the reconstruction of the past took a tragic direction that Novalis and the Christian Romantics failed to anticipate. Neo-pagans like Richard Wagner succeeded in mining the legendary past for a German identity founded upon race. This became the “national nervous fever” that Friedrich Nietzsche denounced in 1886 in Beyond Good and Evil: “the anti-French folly, the anti-Semitic folly, the anti-Polish folly, the Christian-romantic folly, the Wagnerian folly, the Teutonic folly, the Prussian folly…and whatever else these little obscurations of the German spirit and conscience may be called.”

The crux of Clark’s argument appears in his chapter on Hitler, which “builds a case for the distinctiveness of National Socialist temporality.” Hitler sought “to establish an ever more perfect identity with the remote past, out of whose still uncontaminated timbers the house of the future would have to be built. In the ‘longing for a common [German] fatherland,’ Hitler wrote, there lies ‘a well that never dries.’”

Clark indulges in a lengthy peroration on the Nazis’ fascination with what he calls “the remote past,” including archeological investigation of Teutonic prehistory, cataloguing of folk customs, and other efforts to promote a culture of German racial identity. The reader well may ask whether the Nazis’ amateurish evocation of the mythic German past had anything like the impact of Wagner’s operas, especially the “Ring” tetralogy derived from 13th-century epic sagas in the Nibelungenlied and the Scandinavian Eddas.

* * *

In Clark’s carnival-mirror comparison, Trump’s campaign rhetoric about restoring American greatness and reclaiming American manufacturing jobs evokes the same regression to a mythical past that beguiled the Nazis—as if the American steel industry, which in 1948 employed ten times more workers than it does today, were the equivalent of Nibelheim or Valhalla. That is a feverish instance of what Leo Strauss mocked as “reductio ad Hitlerum.”

To say that Trump has rough edges is an understatement, but it is nonsensical to identify “Make America Great Again” with the Nazi revival of the pagan past. America has no pagan past to revive. It was founded as a Christian nation with a Biblical culture, albeit low-church Protestant and antinomian.

Trump was the overwhelming choice of evangelical Protestants in the primaries and won the highest proportion of the evangelical vote on record. Evangelicals supported Trump rather than one of their own, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, because they sought not a national pastor but the sort of rough man who would lead them in battle against the Philistines—a Jephthah or Saul rather than an Elijah. In a country whose founders held to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity, rallying behind a sinner is not the least bit incongruous or un-Christian, much less Hitlerian.




"SEND THEM OVER": Senators Dianne Feinstein and Joe Manchin join Democrats pressuring Pelosi to send impeachment articles to Senate (Fox News)

"THE LAWSUIT SEEKS ALL SUBPOENAS": Watchdog group suing Adam Schiff over release of private phone records (The Daily Wire)

$3.6 BILLION IN MILITARY FUNDS: Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifts injunction against border-wall funds (National Review)

PROPAGANDA: Iranian TV reports a different version of missile attack on U.S. bases in Iraq (USA Today)

WAR BY OTHER MEANS: Texas facing 10,000 potential cybersecurity attacks from Iran per minute, Gov. Greg Abbott says (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

EPIC FAIL: Those who can't find Iran on a map (and there are plenty of them) are less likely to support the strike on Soleimani (Washington Examiner)

JUSTICE: Mexican national who killed Brian Terry has been sentenced to life in prison (Townhall)

NEARLY 3,000 DEATHS AND COUNTING: 2020 on track to be worst flu season in decades (The Hill)

WELCOME NEWS: Cancer death rates drop by largest amount on record (Axios)

SEEKING ANSWERS: Judge orders Google to turn over Jussie Smollett's emails (Associated Press)

POLICY: Why repealing the 1991 and 2002 Iraq war authorizations is sound policy (The Heritage Foundation)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is here 


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