Class warfare? The rich have already won!

In the history of actual warfare, it’s hard to imagine a worse outcome than the one endured by France after it attempted to fight off Nazi occupation at the start of World War II. Indeed, the only way the French could have screwed it up any more is if, at the last minute, they’d voted to replace their standing army with a flock of epileptic prairie chickens.

Similarly, it’s hard to imagine how much more horribly the middle and lower classes –and their halfhearted surrogates – could screw up the class war they’re currently waging against the wealthy.

But make no mistake about it, that war is happening – ask any Republican.

After President Obama recently proposed that the richest Americans pay higher taxes in order to reduce the deficit, the GOP was united in opposition, claiming that the president was engaged in a malodorous form of class warfare.

Of course, those who talk incessantly about class warfare almost never pause to mention who’s winning – because if they did, that silly meme would suddenly make less sense than the rantings of a peyote-addled tea partier caught in the basilisk-like gaze of Michele Bachmann.

But if you really want to know the score, consider the following:

  • From 2000 to 2010, middle-class income, adjusted for inflation, fell 7%. Of course, it was a tough decade for everyone, but according to a recent CNNMoney article, “[the] losses disproportionately hit the lowest 60% of Americans, while the richest 40% actually gained wealth, relative to the entire U.S. economy.”

  • Meanwhile, between 2002 and 2007, two-thirds of the country’s income gains went to the top 1% of U.S. households. You might think this is an inevitable consequence of the rich historically getting richer as a result of having more resources to leverage, but you’d be wrong. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, “The uneven distribution of economic gains in recent years continues a longer-term trend that began in the late 1970s. In the three decades following World War II (1946-1976), robust economic gains were shared widely, with the incomes of the bottom 90 percent actually increasing more rapidly in percentage terms, on average, than the incomes of the top 1 percent. But in the three decades since 1976, the incomes of the bottom 90 percent of households have risen only slightly, on average, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have soared.”

  • In 1965, the average CEO of a major U.S. company made 24 times more than the average worker. In 2010, the average CEO made 325 times more than the average worker.

  • Meanwhile, the tax rates upper-income earners pay have plummeted. In the 1950s, during a period of almost unparalleled economic growth, the top marginal income tax rate was 91%. Throughout most of the ‘70s, it was 70%. Today, it’s 35%. (Of course, no one’s proposing going back to the days when the top rate was north of 90%, but the idea that a higher top marginal rate would automatically kill the economy is clearly nonsense.)

  • In 1928, the top 1% of households received 23.9% of all pre-tax income. That number hovered at slightly more than 10% throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s and dropped to 8.9% by 1978. By 2008, it had climbed to 21%.

    It’s interesting to note that eras when the poor and middle class weren’t such inept class warriors were often marked by sustained periods of robust growth, whereas income inequality prevailed in the Roaring Twenties, a decade that quickly gave way to the Great Depression.

    I don’t mean to spit on the hallowed grave of Cornelius Vanderbilt, but could it be that allowing more money to flow into the hands of the poor and middle class – people who are likely to spend it immediately on necessities – would go a long way toward creating jobs?

    Of course, I find it a bit odd that Republicans are so eager to start real wars fought in foreign lands but suddenly get squeamish when it comes to pretend wars fought in John Boehner’s head.

    Then again, they’re crafty enough these days to know how to pick their battles.

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