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Haves and Have-Nots
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Well, the Iowa's in the bag and "Comeback Kerry" (I think "Switchback Kerry" would be more appropriate, given his penchant for zig-zagging) has won, and John Edwards has come in a suprising second.

The Dean camp is already blaming Gephardt's negative campaigning for dragging him down to third (gee, could the inanity dribbling out of your own mouth have been part of the problem, Howard?).

Still, it's staggering to me that most Iowans were willing to either forgive or ignore Kerry's ridiculous posture on the war with Iraq, and his vote giving the President war powers that he says he actually never intended the President to use, or intended for him to use if he got the French to come along...or, hell, I can't make sense of it. My guess is that the Iowans just ignored that little tidbit. Whatever.

I do have to give some props to Edwards for running a relatively positive campaign. I do like that about him, though he still seems sufficiently fuzzy on specifics. When asked this morning in an interview on NPR what message of his resonated most with voters, Edwards responded that it was his message of two Americas, one where people prospered and another where people did without.

Now, most Americans probably like to see themselves in the group of Have-Nots. It appeals to their sensibilities, no matter how far from the truth it might be. And affluent Liberals probably still hold to a fantasy of mass hordes of the downtrodden and poor in America that they're helping by balancing the wealth through "progressive" taxes. The facts are far from this perception.

We're the wealthiest nation on the planet, and the fact is, the greatest inequalities are not between members of our own society, but between the richest and poorest nations themselves.

The standard of living across income levels grew steadily through the past 50 years. We have a very large, very comfortable Middle Class. The vast majority of people have the basics covered. Not everyone has top-flight health care, but there aren't many people going hungry in this country, nowhere near the proportions of many other countries.

Is it just me, or is there something grotesque about citizens of the richest nation in the world whining about wealth distribution amongst themselves?

Do you honestly think that most of the people discussing and voting in last night's caucus were really Have-Nots? If not, then why would Edwards' populist pap appeal to them?

I'll let the master of economics himself, Paul Krugman, make the point for me. Here's a 1996 article, in which Krugman explains the average standard of living between Americans in 1950 and in 1996:

After all, even if you use an unadjusted CPI, the standard of living of the median family (50th percentile) in 1950 America appears startlingly low by current standards. In that year, median-family income in 1994 dollars was only about $18,000. That's about the 20th percentile today. Families at the 20th percentile--that is, poorer than 80 percent of the population--may not be legally poor (only about 12 percent of families are officially below the poverty line), but they are likely to regard themselves as very disadvantaged and unsuccessful. So even using the old numbers, most families in 1950 had a material standard of living no better than that of today's poor or near-poor.

We can confirm this with more direct measures of the way people lived. In 1950 some 35 percent of dwellings lacked full indoor plumbing. Many families still did not have telephones or cars. And of course very few people had televisions. A modern American family at the 12th percentile (that is, right at the poverty line) surely has a flushing toilet, a working shower, and a telephone with direct-dial long-distance service; probably has a color television; and may well even have a car. Take into account improvements in the quality of many other products, and it does not seem at all absurd to say that the material standard of living of that poverty-level family in 1996 is as good as or better than that of the median family in 1950.

Krugman goes on to make the silly assertion that your average Joe in 1950 wasn't really poorer by objective standards, because objective standards don't really matter (what a great postmodernist Krugman is). Still, this observation is correct:

Imagine that a mad scientist went back to 1950 and offered to transport the median family to the wondrous world of the 1990s, and to place them at, say, the 25th percentile level. The 25th percentile of 1996 is a clear material improvement over the median of 1950. Would they accept his offer? Almost surely not--because in 1950 they were middle class, while in 1996 they would be poor, even if they lived better in material terms. People don't just care about their absolute material level--they care about their level compared with others'. (emphasis original)

So basically, the standard of living is objectively far higher today than it was 50 years ago, but to Krugman that doesn't seem to matter. Who cares if my belly's full, all my basic needs are met, I have indoor plumbing, an entertainment system, and a car...I don't have as much as the next tax bracket up! I'm a Have-Not!

Which is the ridiculous crux of the whole discussion of wealth distribution in the U.S. Go out and try to find articles dealing with the subject, and most of them will focus on the fact that the gap between the richest and the poorest has widened, completely ignoring the fact that over the past 50 years the standards of living for poor and the middle class have risen considerably.

We're not a poor country, and we're not a country filled with poor people who are barely scraping by. Those people stampeding Wal-Marts last Christmas to buy gobs of consumer goods were not our country's elite. They were the masses, and the masses are not wondering where their next meal is coming from. They know (McDonald's).

So if you've bought into the fantasy that we're a nation with Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and Ted Turner sitting upon golden thrones in crystal palaces while the rest of us wallow in shit...wake up.

Countries like Zambia have wealth distribution problems (the average per capita income for Zambians is about $800 a year...for Americans it's over $36,000).

We're not a country of Haves and Have-Nots. We're a country, overwhelmingly, of Haves.

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