A weird thing is happening politically in Washington. A new wing of the GOP – national conservatives or ”Nat Cons” – are adopting the declinist rhetoric of Bernie Sanders. They argue that middle-class America has fallen behind over the last 40 years, and that all of the economic gains have gone to the richest Americans and big corporations.
There are several prominent Senate Republicans – including Marco Rubio of Florida, J.D. Vance of Ohio, and Josh Hawley of Missouri to name a few – who have dabbled in this movement. They want activist government to raise the fortunes of the middle class.
Except the argument is flat-out false. Actually, the last 40 years – up until Biden came into office – have been a golden age of prosperity for virtually every income group – including the middle class. Median family income reached $78,000 in 2020, which is $20,000 a year HIGHER than it was in 1983. That’s about a 35% increase over the period.
Those income measures don’t include the much wider availability of more non-cash benefits – such as health care coverage, more vacation, and 401k and other retirement benefits – that make middle class families almost 50% better off than in the late 1970s.
The era of prosperity started under Reagan – fueled by lower tax rates, disinflation, a stable dollar, freer trade, and an American-led tech boom – that accelerated through the Clinton years of the 1990s. Yes, there was a retreat after the 2008 housing crash, and the Obama years saw little progress, but the Census data show a giant leap forward in middle-income gains under Trump, with the average family gaining more than $6,000 in real income.
The Nat Cons tend to support trade protectionism, less immigration, more government benefits to the middle class, more restraints on business, and in some cases higher taxes on the rich. These are all lousy ideas – but everyone is entitled to their opinions.
But the Nat Cons could at least get their facts straight.