The wrong cure for a real cri­sis

THE CRI­SIS OF THE MID­DLE­CLASS CON­STI­TU­TION: WHY ECO­NOMIC INEQUAL­ITY THREAT­ENS OUR RE­PUB­LIC By Ganesh Si­tara­man Knopf, $28, 423 pages

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Aram Bak­shian Jr. Aram Bak­shian Jr., an aide to Pres­i­dents Nixon, Ford and Rea­gan, writes widely on pol­i­tics, his­tory, gas­tron­omy and the arts.

One of the prob­lems with a book ti­tled “The Cri­sis of the Mid­dleOClass

Con­sti­tu­tion” is that, more than two cen­turies af­ter rat­i­fi­ca­tion of that doc­u­ment, we still have no real con­sen­sus on ex­actly what is meant by the term “mid­dle class.” To­day, al­most all of the peo­ple liv­ing and work­ing in a lux­ury Man­hat­tan condo — from the bil­lion­aire in the pent­house to the gen­eral man­ager in the busi­ness of­fice, the re­cep­tion­ist in the lobby, the door­man at the en­trance and the main­te­nance man in the base­ment — would prob­a­bly de­scribe them­selves as “mid­dle class.” Of course, each would have a dif­fer­ent idea of what “mid­dle class” meant; about the only univer­sal qual­i­fi­ca­tions they might agree on would be that be­ing mid­dle class means stay­ing out of jail, off of wel­fare and on the job. In other words, be­ing a law-abid­ing, pro­duc­tive mem­ber of so­ci­ety with no means test in­volved.

The big tent con­cept of the Amer­i­can mid­dle class has served us well. It has also at­tracted wave af­ter wave of pos­i­tively mo­ti­vated im­mi­grants seek­ing a bet­ter life. For them, be­com­ing an Amer­i­can didn’t mean chang­ing pass­ports; it meant start­ing life anew in a bet­ter place than the one they came from, not be­cause they be­lieved in some vague fan­tasy of eco­nomic equal­ity, but be­cause they be­lieved in some­thing very real and very at­tain­able: eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity. By and large, they found it.

The Con­sti­tu­tion that de­fined our coun­try was, in­deed, “mid­dle class” in the sense that it staunchly up­held ba­sic, in­di­vid­ual rights for all Amer­i­cans. The peo­ple who cre­ated it tended to be wealth­ier and bet­ter ed­u­cated than most of their fel­low cit­i­zens, but the ed­u­ca­tional and eco­nomic “inequal­ity” of the founders was not a prob­lem. Far from it: It meant that the Con­sti­tu­tion was pro­duced by some of the most ta­lented, pro­duc­tive mem­bers of so­ci­ety, whether self-made men like Alexan­der Hamil­ton or landed gen­try like James Madi­son. This has al­ways been a source of great an­noy­ance to eco­nom­i­cally blink­ered so­cial the­o­rists, an elit­ist class in their own right, who would like to use the power of the state — once it falls into their hands — to re­dis­tribute wealth ac­cord­ing to their own no­tions of what each of us is en­ti­tled to.

If you are ob­sessed with other peo­ple’s money, and if you be­lieve that you know what is good for the masses — and that the masses don’t know what’s good for them­selves — then Ganesh Si­tara­man is your man. Mr. Si­tara­man, also known as “El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s Brain” hav­ing served as the ju­nior Mas­sachusetts se­na­tor’s long-time pol­icy guru, writes very well about very bad ideas. He be­gins with a half-truth: “The num­ber one threat to Amer­i­can con­sti­tu­tional gov­ern­ment to­day is the col­lapse of the mid­dle class,” and ends with a flawed con­clu­sion bol­stered by a mis­ap­plied quote:

“To­day, with eco­nomic inequal­ity ris­ing, the mid­dle class col­laps­ing, and power in­creas­ingly con­cen­trated in the hands of eco­nomic elites ... [t] he cen­tral ques­tion we must ask is one John Adams raised more than two hun­dred years ago. Is there ‘such a rage for Profit and Com­merce’ that we no longer have ‘pub­lic Virtue enough to sup­port a Re­pub­lic’?”

To the ex­tent that the vast, amor­phous Amer­i­can mid­dle class is “col­laps­ing” to­day, it is not due to the abuses or ex­cesses of the su­per-rich, dis­taste­ful and grotesque they may be. It is largely due to the steady ero­sion of val­ues and in­sti­tu­tions that nur­ture a healthy mid­dle class. Much of this ero­sion is the di­rect re­sult of gov­ern­ment poli­cies crafted and im­posed by the ide­o­log­i­cal fore­bears of Mr. Si­tara­man and Sen. War­ren such as a “pro­gres­sive,” po­lit­i­cally cor­rect sys­tem of pub­lic pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion that fails to give many of its stu­dents min­i­mal skills or teach ba­sic civics, and “pro­gres­sive” so­cial poli­cies and per­mis­sive­ness that have re­sulted in de­clin­ing mar­riage rates and sky­rock­et­ing il­le­git­i­macy rates, to cite but two of many fac­tors.

Be­tween 1970 and 2015 alone, the num­ber of ba­bies born to sin­gle moth­ers jumped from 11 per­cent to 40 per­cent, kids who will start life locked out of the “mid­dle class” ben­e­fit of a two-par­ent up­bring­ing, and of­ten des­tined for pub­lic school sys­tems that will train them for fail­ure by grade 12.

The mid­dle class cri­sis — to us and to con­sti­tu­tional gov­ern­ment — is all too real. Mr. Si­tara­man’s “so­lu­tion” of con­fis­cat­ing other peo­ple’s money and lim­it­ing their right to free ex­pres­sion — is con­sid­er­ably less so.

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