My fiance and I just got back from having dinner with my Mother and Step Dad. It was a good time, lots of food, wine, and whining. Yes, whining. Somehow or another the issue of my Mother’s taxes came up. And of course, like all of us, she doesn’t like to pay them. She understands they are necessary, and is willing to pay “her share” (whatever that means), but doesn’t think she should be so heavily “burdened”. “Why don’t the rich take most of the slack?” she says.
My mother is a smart Woman, well educated, and has a very professional job where she is required to think. She has a good heart, and means well. But, on this singular issue, she’s exemplifying an attitude I take strong issue with. She makes a good deal of money, complains constantly about what she doesn’t have, and how we need to fund more programs to make the country better, but she wants to lower her taxes. In short, she is a member of the whiny and hypocritical “middle class”. (I’m not trying to single her out, don’t worry, I love my Mom. But, a good example is a good example.)
You may ask why I–a vocal Libertarian–would find fault with someone saying they want to pay less taxes. Shouldn’t I encourage such banter? No. At least not from liberals. If you want to fund schools, pay for universal healthcare, rescue children in Darfur, and keep NASA in space, then you have to pay taxes–a lot of taxes. If you want low taxes, then give up on programs.
I think there are two reasons liberal middle class people are so prone to hypocracy. The first is because they don’t realize how much money they actually make relative to the rest of the nation (and more importantly, to the rest of the world). And second, they don’t realize how impossible it is to pay for everything we want by only taxing the “rich” heavily (because it’s impossible to get them to pay). I’m not going to tackle the second problem, which is admittedly large. But, I will hammer away at the first one.
Everybody is Middle Class
Every American thinks they are a member of the middle class–the middle of the middle class. Over the years the term has expanded along with our bellies to include households that make as little as $25,000/year to single individuals making $100,000/year or more. The term has lost all meaning.
I’m not going to take issue with people who make less than $25, 000 a year, or households making less than $50,000 who want reduced tax rates AND who still want all the liberal standards. They are the people we’re supposed to be helping to get healthcare and good education for their children.
I do take issue with individuals pulling in over $60,000, especially when they don’t have children (or their children have left the house already) or households making $100,000, who want all the liberal goodies along with a lowered tax bill.
If you make that kind of money, you are upper middle class by today’s standards. By the standards of the 1950’s, or of the current state of the rest of the world, you’re outright rich.
The true middle of the middle class is about $47,000/year for a household. Not a person. A household. If you make $50,000 (just you) and you don’t have kids, then you pull in more than the average middle class family does with a combined income. In other words, you’re rich.
If you and your spouse pull in a combined $100,000 then, even if you do have kids, you live on DOUBLE what the average American family does per year! You’re rich.
The term “middle class” has become a weapon wielded by Politicians to lure in unsuspecting voters by making them feel like victims. “The middle class is struggling!”, or “The middle class can’t pay it’s bills!”, are common catch phrases used by members of both parties to sell votes–and it works. It works because everybody thinks that the politicians are talking about them!
The truth is less romantic. Odds are, you are not a member of the middle class. The middle class is (by definition) only the people in the middle. The rest of us are either below or above that.
I make a negative income. I make decent money as a private weightlifting coach, but it’s no where near enough to cover my Tuition and living expenses. So, I take out loans every year to continue my education while still feeding my face. My net earnings per year are in the red. Very red. A deep blood red. But, that’s ok. I’m a student, it’s normal, and it’s worth it to me.
“Hi, my name is Nick, and I’m not Middle Class.” There, that wasn’t so hard was it?
My Mother is well into the upper middle class (I call these people rich) group. I’ve got a number of good friends in the lower middle class group (under $46,000/household with kids). And a few friends who make right around $40,000, but are single and don’t have kids (I also call these people rich).
It’s all relative.
In America we look up at the super rich (Celebrities, Oil Exec’s) and say, “hey, I’m not making what they’re making, so I’m only middle class.” What we should do is look at the average income for the average human being living on the planet, and compare our incomes to that.
Take a look at these averages collected by the World Bank:
Region Per Capita Income in US$
United States: 37,500
East Asia & Pacific: 4,680
Europe & Central Asia 7,570
Latin America & Caribbean 7,080
Middle East & North Africa 5,700
South Asia 2,660
Sub-Saharan Africa 1,770
I’d say if you’re on a computer reading this, you’re doing pretty well.
Census Bureau Home Page. http://www.census.gov/
Thompson, William E., and Joseph V. Hickey. 2007. Society in Focus: An Introduction to Sociology. 6th ed. Allyn & Bacon, July 12.