Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Late, Great Middle Class

It’s never been harder to find a decent job making something real.

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online 

The American middle class, like the American economy in general, is ailing. Labor-force participation has hit a 35-year low.Destitute_man_vacant_store

Median household income is lower than it was five years ago. Only the top 5 percent of households have seen their incomes rise under President Obama.

Commuters are paying more than twice as much for gas as they were in 2008. Federal payouts for food stamps, unemployment insurance, and disability insurance have reached unprecedented levels.

Meanwhile, the country is still running near-record budget deficits and is burdened by $17 trillion in aggregate debt. Yet the stock market is soaring.

How can we make sense of all this contradictory nonsense? Irony.

Obama promised to restore the middle class. In truth, he has enacted the very policies that have done it the most damage in years. That paradox may explain why his base of support remains the very rich and the very poor. Goldman Sachs, federal bureaucrats, and aid recipients are helped in a way that the strapped hardware-store owner, Starbucks barista, and part-time welder are not.

For all the talk of infrastructure or stimulus, the latest $6 trillion in federal borrowing seems to have been wasted on bailing out insider banks and green companies, growing the federal work force, regulating the private sector into stasis, and subsidizing those who are not working.

The Federal Reserve still keeps interest rates at near zero. That mostly helps Wall Street, where money flows madly in search of any sort of return.

Most real interest rates for consumer purchases somehow remain exorbitant. Banks obtain their money cheaply and lend it out expensively. No wonder that so many Wall Street and banking executives — Timothy Geithner, Jack Lew, Peter Orszag, Gene Sperling, Larry Summers — revolve in and out of the highest levels of this “no revolving door” administration.

Middle-class workers see little chance of retiring when their meager savings earn almost no interest, so they are apt to stay on the job longer. Their continuance only makes unemployment rates for young entry-level workers even worse.

Obama always threatened higher taxes on the well-off. He achieved that goal with a new 39.6 percent federal rate on upper incomes, a rate paid on top of state and payroll taxes. Yet such steep taxes do not much affect the super-rich. Their income is often exempted through sophisticated tax-avoidance or, more often, earned through less-taxed capital gains.

Small employers in many states have no such recourse and now pay more than half their incomes in assorted federal, state, and local taxes. Naturally, they are hiring fewer people and making fewer capital investments.

That greater tax hit might have been worth it had the new rates been part of a balanced-budget agreement like the Bill Clinton–Newt Gingrich deal of 1997, which froze spending levels and, for a time, stopped our ruinous borrowing.

Not this time. We end up with the worst of all worlds: once again a 39 percent top tax rate, but now with out-of-control federal spending and more multibillion-dollar budget deficits.

By virtually shutting down gas and oil leases on federal lands, the administration has declined the chance to create millions of new energy jobs and to lower fuel prices. For now, lower power bills and gasoline prices, and the creation of more jobs in energy, depend entirely on those who drill on private lands — despite, not because of, federal efforts.

Even the many sires of Obamacare now deny their paternity. Unions want out of it. Congress demands exclusion from it. Well-connected businesses won exemption from it.

The poor who mostly do not pay federal income taxes will get a largely free, bureaucratized federal health-care system. Many of the rich praise Obamacare but will quietly use their own money to avoid it. The middle class will see their premiums soar and the quality of their coverage erode.

These are surreal times. Wealthy elites who help to shut down jobs in energy, timber, and mining are deemed liberal — but not always so the middle classes, who suffer the consequences in lost jobs and higher prices.

Universities voice progressive bromides, but they care mostly for the tenured and the technocrat, not the part-timer and the indebted student. Thanks to soaring tuition, campus is now the haunt of the very wealthy who can afford it and the very poor who are often exempted from it. The less romantic middle class goes $1 trillion into debt for their high-interest student loans.

Never has it been so good to be invested in a vastly expanding federal government — either to distribute or receive federal subsidies. Never has it been so lucrative to work in banking or on Wall Street. And never has it been so bad to try to find a decent job making something real.

To paraphrase the Roman historian Tacitus, where we have made a desert of the middle class, we call it a recovery.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His new book, The Savior Generalsis just out from Bloomsbury Books. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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