On a daily basis, conservative commentators say things which are incredibly stupid and reprehensible. They make baseless accusation based on mere speculation and outright lies. They appeal to the worst in human nature through invective and unjustifiably inflammatory rhetoric. But you already know this. That's just what they do.
Yet once and a while a right-winger will spout something that is not only absurd and dishonest, but outright incomprehensible. A statement that tugs at the limits of credibility so much that even their own audiences must be having doubts.
Today, in the Weekly Standard affiliated Washington Examiner, Michael Barone makes such a statement while arguing against leftist criticisms of income inequality in America. He tries arguing that Americans essentially "don't care" about income inequality because they have it so good right now that it doesn't concern them. He makes the usual wingnutty observations about the large selections at supermarkets and cheap consumer electronics, as if that negates the failure of America to provide affordable health insurance to a large chunk of its population and its crumbling infrastructure.
Then he writes a paragraph that makes my jaw drop:
It's a widespread assumption in some affluent circles that ordinary Americans are seething with envy because . My sense is that most Americans just don't care. They're reasonably happy with what they've got, and would like a little more.
One cannot help but wonder if Mr. Barone is living in the same universe that 90% of Americans are. The Americans who cannot rely on receiving a "$250,000 no-strings-attached gift just for being a loyal conservative." The kind who are dealing with 10% unemployment. The people who have seen wages and benefits stagnate while corporate profits skyrocket. Who have had to deal with banks literally stealing homes through a system of legalized fraud.
Is Barone totally unaware of the fact that the standard of living in America is far below that of other First World nations? America has been falling behind the rest of the developing world in terms of life expectancy for a while now. While we certainly are number one at imprisoning our own citizens and arming the world, we can't seem to get our population to live longer.
In 1950, the United States was fifth among the leading industrialized nations with respect to female life expectancy at birth, surpassed only by Sweden, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands. The last available measure of female life expectancy had the United States ranked at forty-sixth in the world. As of September 23, 2010, the United States ranked forty-ninth for both male and female life expectancy combined.
Glenn Greenwald expands on this:
Just to underscore the rapidity of the decline, as recently as 1999, the U.S. was ranked by the World Health Organization as 24th in life expectancy. It's now 49th. There are other similarly potent indicators. In 2009, the National Center for Health Statistics ranked the U.S. in 30th place in global infant mortality rates. Out of 20 "rich countries" measured by UNICEF, the U.S. ranks 19th in "child well-being." Out of 33 nations measured by the OECD, the U.S. ranks 27th for student math literacy and 22nd for student science literacy. In 2009, the World Economic Forum ranked 133 nations in terms of "soundness" of their banks, and the U.S. was ranked in 108th place, just behind Tanzania and just ahead of Venezuela.
It also is the height of absurdity for a wealthy Beltway insider like Michael Barone to strawman concerns for average and lower-class American well-being as a petty sense of anxiety on the part of "some affluent circles." In fact, a recent study shows that--when shown the stark facts about income inequality in the US vs. that of Sweden--the American public generally prefer the distribution Sweden has.
in their study, the authors found Americans generally underestimate the income disparity. When asked to estimate, respondents on average estimated that the top 20 percent have 59 percent of the wealth (as opposed to the real number, 84 percent). And when asked to choose how much the top 20 percent should have, on average respondents said 32 percent -- a number similar to the wealth distribution seen in Sweden.
"What is most striking" about the results, argue the authors, is that they show "more consensus than disagreement among ... different demographic groups. All groups – even the wealthiest respondents – desired a more equal distribution of wealth than what they estimated the current United States level to be, while all groups also desired some inequality – even the poorest respondents."
Additionally, establishment economists are noticing a correlation between inequality and financial instability. A recent study released by the IMF spells out a common pattern found preceding collapses which is summarized by Kevin Drum as such: "(a) growing inequality produces less money for the middle class and more money for the rich, (b) the rich loan much of this money back to the middle class so they can continue to improve their living standards even with stagnant incomes, (c) the financial sector balloons to mediate all this, and (d) the system eventually collapses since, after all, this kind of thing can't last forever."
Further down, Barone argues that our corporate tax code is too high by relying on the nominal rate and ignoring all the exemptions granted and the lax IRS measures against evasion. In fact, a report by the GAO showed that between all of 1998 and 2005 "about two-thirds of corporations operating in the United States did not pay taxes."
UPDATE: Here is some essential reading on the subject. Some helpful charts follow:
Worker productivity is up, profits are up, wages are stagnating. That's all there is to know right now.