There’s an old trick in politics: if you’re winning a fight and the other side tries to do something about it, deny there’s any fight at all.
“Class warfare!” is the big pushback talking point of the R’s in response to President Obama’s call for a balanced deficit reduction plan that calls for more revenue from those who are a) doing the best and b) still benefitting from the highend Bush cuts.
But the fact is—as the figures show—what growth we’ve achieved in recent years has almost exclusively gone to those at the top of the income scale. As the recent Census report revealed, median household income peaked in 1999, went nowhere in the 2000s, and tanked further in the great recession. At $49,500, this metric of middle-class income is now $4,000 below its 1999 peak (2010 dollars).
Now, I’m not crazy about the vernacular of class warfare—it’s too reductionist and doesn’t explain much of what’s going on. But if you want to call developments like these–deregulation, supply-side tax cuts, anti-unionism, cuts in government supports and investments, globalization over domestic investment, anti-Keynesianism—class warfare, and you’ve got a point, then one side is winning.
And guess what? It’s the side that doesn’t want you to talk about it.
[Update: Commenter CS had the bright idea to add a figure (the middle one below) on the share of income going to the top 1% and the top 0.1% (that's the top tenth of the top 1%) with data going all the way back to 1913!--like I said, if there's a class war, it's an awfully dramatic picture of who's winning.]
[The figure above shows real after-tax income gains through 2007, the most recent year in this series...the great recession certainly whacked high incomes as well, but data on corporate profits through the middle of this year suggest they've more than recovered, while wage trends show continued weakness.]
[Source: Piketty and Saez; these data show the share of income, including realized capital gains (which play a significant role in the growth of inequality) for the top 1% and the top tenth of the top 1% (avg income, $3.2 million in 2008) going all the way back to 1913! And today's levels of income inequality are the highest on record since the late 1920s...and we all recall how that worked out...right?]
[This one has the median in there, showing the flat and falling real trend since the latter 1990s.]