The self-pity of America’s middle class
“Stop whining, Occupiers,” said Charles Kenny. The largely middle-class protesters who want the top 1 percent of earners to pay higher taxes on their “supposedly ill-gotten gains” have a point: The world has a terrible inequality problem. But what the self-proclaimed 99 percent do not seem to understand is that by global standards, “America’s middle class is also really, really rich.” The average American family earns almost 50 times more than the world’s poorest families, many of whom scrape by on less than $1.25 a day. Like the richest Americans, the middle class has come by its wealth largely by luck. Economist Herbert Simon once estimated that 90 percent of any American’s income is the result of living in a modern, affluent nation. (Try taking your skills to, say, Somalia.) Most middle-class Americans also enjoy a lavish system of benefits that gives them more in tax breaks, Medicare and Social Security, public services, and free schooling than they contribute in taxes. If Occupiers really care about inequality, they should be happy to pay higher taxes, too—to help America’s bottom 20 percent and the poor of other nations.