Monday, April 13, 2009

Nick Gillespie's evil twin attacks the "rich"

Nick Gillespie (or is it some hacker posting under his good name?) has a recent post at reason online about public finance economist Thomas Piketty (who knew he was French?), the "rich" and high tax rates.

Besides committing the cardinal sin (especially for a guy with a doctorate in English) of confusing wealth, a stock, with income, a flow, Nick's post includes this odd bit:
I've got little sympathy for the rich or even the relatively well-off (and don't even get me started on people who consider themselves middle class and are in the top 20 percent of income-earning households—those of you in households making more than $88,000 know who you are).
Now what is up with this?

First, and most prosaically, one suspects that another name for households making more than $88,000 is "reason's donor base".

Second, in DC, where reason is located these days, 88K is about enough to live like a Michigan economics graduate student who does a lot of tutoring on the side.

Third, it is one very fine bit of American exceptionalism that most Americans do consider themselves "middle class". There is actually a large literature in sociology on this phenomenon, though much of its attention is devoted to the lower end, where Amercians largely refuse to call themselves "working class". One suspects that this is all tied in somehow, though the direction of causation is not clear, with the additional expectionalism that the US never had an electorally successful socialist party, unlike most every country in Europe.

I never really found the fact that so many Americans self-identify as middle class particularly troubling. Holding city of residence constant, the lives of, say, three person households making 50K, 100K, or 150K (or even 200K) are not all that different. House size might be a bit different, age of car might be a bit different, whether or not they shop at Whole Foods might be different, but the basic texture of life, the major choices and issues and problems and uses of time, will not be very different at all. So why should they not all call themselves middle class?

Oh, and Nick looks awfully happy in the picture on reason's Christmas card from a couple of years ago in which he is posed with comedian and friend-of-reason Drew Carey, who makes quite a good bit more than 88K. Perhaps the numerous attractive young women who share the holiday photo with Nick and Drew comfort and relax him in the presence of a person with such a high income. :)