Benjamin Disraeli is reputed to have said “There are three type of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.”
Today let’s address the third component of Disraeli’s formulation in the context of a recent National Review article with the headline, “The Myth of the Stagnating Middle Class.” The article observes that “more Americans have easier lives today than in years past.”
To regular readers, this is a variant of the assertion that “common folk live better today than royalty did in earlier times,” a claim we debunked two years ago. The current argument is more nuanced in that it: a) relies on a few statistical twists; b) contains statements that are true but don’t support the main claim; and c) is an argument against Donald Trump’s populism from the political right. It all has the general appearance of plausibility until you start digging.
This is where we come in.
Let’s begin with the claim that more Americans have easier lives today than in years past. This is true and almost always has been. Progress is humanity’s default setting ever since our ancestors climbed down from the trees and began walking upright on the African savannah.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the standard of living for all Americans has been rising for many years, mainly because of technological advances. However, the main issue under discussion is actually about how the economic benefits of the U.S. economy get apportioned across the populace.
In other words, how the wealth is distributed. The National Review engages in a statistical sleight of hand that distracts from this.
For further insight I spoke with Salil Mehta, who teaches at Columbia and Georgetown, and is perhaps best known for his role as the top numbers cruncher in the federal government’s $700 billion TARP bank bailout plan in the financial crisis.
Continues here: The Middle Class Squeeze Isn’t Made Up