Posts tagged ‘Karl Marx’

Two-Income "Trap", aka the Government Trap

Todd Zywicki has a nice post on the The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke by Professor Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. 

In his writings on the tactics for engineering the communist state, Karl Marx talked a lot about the need to "proletarianize the middle class."  This has been a very popular tactic among leftish writers and politicians today, attempting to convince the middle class that they never had it so bad.

I won't repeat Zywicki's whole post, but the books author's argument revolve around examples which purport to show that as families go from one to two earners, their costs (health care, child care, cars, mortgage, etc.) go up by more than the additional income, making them poorer on a discretionary spending basis.

Zywicki first points out the same thing I immediately thought of when I read a summary of the book:

It is not clear what to make of all of this, except that it is hard to
see how this confirms the central hypothesis of "The Two-Income Trap"
that "necessary" expenses such as mortgage, car payments, and health
insurance are the primary draing on the modern family's budget. And
again, this unrealistically assumes that all increased spending on
houses and cars is exogenously determined, ignoring the possibility
that an increase in income leads to an endogenous decision by some
households to increase their expenditures on items such as houses and

While the assumption seems crazy, it makes sense in the context of leftish ideology, which holds that the middle class have only limited free will and tend to have their decision making corrupted by advertising and other corporate pressures.

But Zywicki goes further, and actually digs into the author's numbers.  He finds that the authors are surprisingly coy about addressing changes in taxation in their numbers.   Zywicki then uses the authors' own numbers, this time with taxes factored in using the authors' own assumptions, and gets these two charts:


As Zywicki summarizes:

As can readily be seen, expenses for health insurance, mortgage, and automobile, have actually declined
as a percentage of the household budget. Child care is a new expense.
But even this new expenditure is about a quarter less than the increase
in taxes. Moreover, unlike new taxes and the child care expenses
incurred to pay them, increases in the cost of housing and automobiles
are offset by increases in the value of real and personal property as
household assets that are acquired in exchange.

Overall, the typical family in the 2000s pays substantially
more in taxes than in their mortgage, automobile expenses, and health
insurance costs combined.
And the growth in the tax obligation
between the two periods is substantially greater the growth in
mortgage, automobile expenses, and health insurance costs combined. And
note, this is using the data taken directly from Warren and Tiyagi's

Proletarianizing the Middle Class

I have been reading and studying Karl Marx in the last week as a part of a European History course I am taking that focuses on the 19th century.  In the context of Marx, it was interesting reading the NY Times recent article on income inequality (the newspaper is not comfortable unless it has visited this topic at least once every week or so).  You might think that I would latch onto this quote from the Times (HT: TJIC)

The top 0.1 percent of earners"¦ now brings in 11 percent of the
nation's total income, triple the share that they did just a generation

And indeed, I have written on the implied zero-sum fallacy any number of times, including just yesterday.  Implied in this one sentence from the Times is what I call the "bubbling spring" theory of wealth, where wealth and income just sort of magically appear, like a spring out of the ground, and the rich are all those piggy people up front taking more than their fair share of the water.  Of course this is ludicrous, because it implies that if the wealthy made less money, then the poor would make more.  In fact, the reality is that if the wealthy made less money, then the nation's total income would be lower.

But this is not what caught my attention.  What was new to me in my recent study of Marx was his writing on the tactics of socialist revolution.  Specifically, he spent a lot of time talking about the need to "proletarianize the middle class."  He knew that to have a successful socialist revolution, the middle class had to be made to feel marginalized and put upon by the system.  If he had lived long enough, he would have said that socialist revolution failed to occur in countries like Britain because the middle class became too large and too successful.

In this context, then, I found this quote from the Times most interesting:

There is now a big push in both Washington and state capitals to come
up with policies that can alleviate middle-class anxiety.

The author himself editorializes:

There is now a big push in both Washington and state capitals to come
up with policies that can alleviate middle-class anxiety. That's all
for the good. In fact, it is overdue.

What middle class anxiety?  The middle class is doing better than ever, except that there has been a concentrated media campaign by the Times and others, abetted by various politicians on the left, to try to make the middle class feel anxious and marginalized.  To the author's credit, he observes that while "Layoffs seem to happen more frequently than they once did," the actual evidence for increased volatility is really not there:

Only later do you come to the surprising part: there is the same
amount of variability now that there was in the 1980s and 1990s. In
journalism, this is known as burying the lead.

"Intuitively, you would think volatility is increasing," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who along with Senator Jim Webb
of Virginia requested that the study be done. "But it isn't, which I
guess shows that the American economy has always been very flexible."

What the author does not explain is, if the increase in volatility is not real, then why do so many people believe it to be true?  The answer, of course, is that his employer, among others, have been pushing a PR campaign for years to convince the middle class that their lot sucks.  Why?  Well, read your Marx.