Flogging a dead horse

In the 1980s, we heard over and over again in the media about how the top fifth of American households was increasing its share of aggregate income, says Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow with the National Centre for Policy Analysis.

The implication was that the size of the economic pie was fixed, so that the gains of one group came at the expense of the rest, but conservatives effectively demolished this argument by showing that the pie was getting larger. The real income of all groups was increasing and everyone was better off, even if some were more better off than others.

But the strongest argument was data showing significant fluidity of income, says Bartlett.

  • Those well off today will often be poor tomorrow and those born poor are often able to lift themselves into higher income brackets.

  • In short, the existence of income mobility utterly smashed the liberal premise and forced a withdrawal.

    In the Clinton years the left simply ignored a continuation of the same trends that it found so objectionable in the 1980s, explains Bartlett.

    Now the left is back flogging the same issue in hopes of getting itself back in the win column. But first it has to cope with the reality of mobility among income classes. Toward this end it is trying to redefine it. Now it is no longer whether or not there is significant mobility – the left concedes that point. The question instead is whether mobility today is greater than it was in the past. This shifts the focus away from the large level of mobility to its change over time, thus obscuring the issue, says Bartlett.

    Source: Bruce Bartlett, Flogging a Dead Horse, National Centre for Policy Analysis, May 18, 2005.

    For text: http://www.ncpa.org/edo/bb/2005/20050518bb.htm

    For more on Economic Issues: Wealth and Poverty: http://www.ncpa.org/iss/eco/

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 24 May 2005
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