Recently, our friends at rare.us published a poll that indicated the so-called “middle class” has changed in terms of its interest in owning a home, having a steady job, and so forth. What’s really interesting about this poll, I think, is that it doesn’t really tell you anything. That’s interesting because it gets to the heart of the truth about the American middle class.
The middle class is by and large an invention of the political class and the news media. The truth is there is no such thing. Even President Obama’s definition of the middle class tends to shift depending on which speech he is giving, or which ideological agenda he is pushing on a given day.
The “middle class” is really little more than a convenient benchmark that politicians and reporters use to suit their needs. There is no definable group of people that always stays within this mythical group we’ve come to refer to as the middle class.
The closest you can get to a viable definition is more a feeling than anything else. People used to recognize middle class as a certain state of well-being. It was the idea that a family with a little money, but far from wealthy, could be reasonably happy and stable if they lived within their needs.
When I was growing up, our family was definitely at the lower end of the income scale, but we didn’t feel like we were “lower class.” There was no bureaucrat or liberal journalist standing around telling us to think of ourselves as poor, so we didn’t.
Politicians and the media would have you believe there is a defined group of people whose incomes fall between Point A and Point X on the income scale, and who will fit this definition for the rest of their lives. They can never do any better, and so they need the help of the government to have any hope of education, retirement, healthcare, or whatever else.
This is simply not true.
For one thing, today’s $30,000 earner could be earning $100,000 five or 10 years later. Most people who earn a lot did not always earn a lot. In your typical “middle class” neighborhood you could have one family that has a lot of money saved, but is perfectly happy to live a modest lifestyle, right next to a family whose mortgage is underwater and is desperately hanging on.
They might have exactly the same income and comparable homes, but there is no way you can reasonably say they’re in the same situation or have the same needs. But if you’re a politician trying to pander to a wide swath of the electorate, you lump everyone into this vaunted “middle class” and tell them all that you’re looking out for them.
It’s all a con. There is no monolithic them. To the extent that you recognize classes at all, people move between different classes all the time, and no two people who have the same income are in the exact same situation.
This is why the best economic policy refrains from trying to cater to classes and just gets out of the way of prosperity. Everyone has their own goals and their own plans for how to achieve them. No one can define success for anyone else, just as no one can tell anyone else what their American Dream should be. I certainly wish President Obama would stop trying because his version of the American dream — a little money for retirement, health insurance — is not very inspiring.
If class is anything, it is a mindset. I’ve always had an upper-class mindset because I knew what was in myself, and I didn’t limit myself to what it said on my paystub or on my bank statement.
People who have an upper-class mindset want freedom above all else, because they know what they’ve got in themselves. If folks think, in order to survive, they need free stuff instead of freedom, then survive is the most they will ever do.
Following the conclusion of his presidential campaign, Herman Cain established The Cain Solutions Revolution, an organization whose mission is to educate the public and advocate for the policy solutions that drove his campaign for the presidency. Read more reports from Herman Cain — Click Here Now.
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