Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

There are numerous micro indicators of the trouble looming for the Republicans in American politics.

Let's begin with an excerpt from Paul Krugman's column (subscription only) in the July 14 New York Times:

"Here’s what happened in 2004. The U.S. economy grew 4.2 percent, a very good number. Yet last August the Census Bureau reported that real median family income — the purchasing power of the typical family — actually fell. Meanwhile, poverty increased, as did the number of Americans without health insurance. So where did the growth go?"

"The answer comes from the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, whose long-term estimates of income equality have become the gold standard for research on this topic, and who have recently updated their estimates to include 2004. They show that even if you exclude capital gains from a rising stock market, in 2004 the real income of the richest 1 percent of Americans surged by almost 12.5 percent. Meanwhile, the average real income of the bottom 99 percent of the population rose only 1.5 percent. In other words, a relative handful of people received most of the benefits of growth."

"There are a couple of additional revelations in the 2004 data. One is that growth didn’t just bypass the poor and the lower middle class, it bypassed the upper middle class too. Even people at the 95th percentile of the income distribution — that is, people richer than 19 out of 20 Americans — gained only modestly. The big increases went only to people who were already in the economic stratosphere."

"The other revelation is that being highly educated was no guarantee of sharing in the benefits of economic growth. There’s a persistent myth, perpetuated by economists who should know better — like Edward Lazear, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — that rising inequality in the United States is mainly a matter of a rising gap between those with a lot of education and those without. But census data show that the real earnings of the typical college graduate actually fell in 2004. "

What is interesting about this is that when the well-educated upper middle class begins to be screwed by the super rich, then the wealthy are really left with no natural allies. They have only one unnatural ally - the fundamentalist Christian poor. But that is not enough.

Other more directly political signs include:

1. A serious challenge by the Democrats in hyper-Republican and conservative Wyoming, Dick Cheney's home state, even if it is not ultimately successful.

2. A Democratic revival in Nebraska, another conservative Republican state.

When the strongest parts of your base begin to decay, you are in deep, deep trouble. When your policies begin to skew income distribution to such an extreme degree, who remains that has a stake in your success?

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